Neuroplasticity and Growth Mindset. What's the connection?

Having spent much of the last decade using words such as: yet, growth, potential, flexible in my teaching and conversations with students it only recently dawned on me that this only focused on mindset. The structure of our brain and how it functions was not where I started the conversation in the classroom. Now's the time to reflect!

The metacognitive cycle maps the process of planning, monitoring and reviewing, encouraging students to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses to enhance their ability and improve. What’s the best way of improving our learning ability? By fully understanding how the brain works, its structure and how we can use it to our advantage.

The most fascinating part of our whole body is the brain. It is like the untapped depths of the oceans. What the grey, squishy sponge in our skull can achieve still blows our minds. Even the word mind causes problems today, it can be seen either as a physical or metaphysical entity. Going back to the Greeks, Plato argued that the mind is linked to the soul and comes from a pure and eternal world!

For the purpose of this blog, I shall just use the mind to refer to our thoughts, perceptions and emotions. Throughout our lives we encounter: joy, sadness, struggle, love, dislike, and experiences both good and bad, contributing to our thinking and influencing our future thoughts and behaviour patterns. These encounters make links between neurons, memories to shape and form and neural pathways to be constructed. This is called neuroplasticity: the concept that our brain is not fixed and can be changed.

Neuroplasticity reveals that the human brain is a dynamic and adaptable organ that can reorganise itself in response to experiences and learning. From birth up to about the age of 25 you can learn and rewire your brain passively just by the mere exposure to information. After that age it is only by the active pursuit of information to rewire neural pathways. Children just have to be exposed to an environment! This means that throughout our lives, we have the capacity to learn new skills, acquire knowledge, and develop new abilities.

On the other hand, a growth mindset is a psychological concept developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. It is the belief that one’s abilities, talents, and intelligence can be developed and improved through dedication, effort, and a willingness to learn. Individuals with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities for growth, embrace failure as a stepping stone to success, and believe that their abilities are not fixed but can be expanded with practice and persistence.

The connection between neuroplasticity and a growth mindset lies in the fact that both concepts emphasise the malleability and potential for growth within individuals. When individuals adopt a growth mindset, they are more likely to engage in learning, take on new challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks. These behaviours and attitudes stimulate neuroplasticity in the brain, as the brain adapts and forms new neural connections to accommodate the learning and growth processes.

In other words, a growth mindset creates an environment that nurtures and supports neuroplasticity. By believing in their ability to develop and improve, individuals are more inclined to engage in activities that challenge their existing skills and knowledge. This, in turn, stimulates the brain to reorganise and create new neural pathways, leading to increased learning and growth.

Overall, understanding the connection encourages students to approach life with a sense of curiosity, resilience, and a willingness to step outside of their comfort zones (remember Vygotsky’s ZPD). It promotes self-belief in one’s ability to learn and improve, leading to increased motivation, perseverance, and ultimately, greater achievements.

By adopting a growth mindset and engaging in activities that challenge us, we can tap into the brain’s neuroplasticity to rewire our thinking, acquire new skills, and achieve personal growth. This applies to various areas of life, such as education, career, relationships, and personal goals.

At the centre of our TM Big Picture is the meta-learner, equipped with the knowledge about the brain’s structure, function and ways to optimise their brain’s potential. The meta-learner is empowered to take control of their own development, pursue their passions, and strive for personal excellence as they aim towards their goal.

Interested in discovering practical steps to support your teaching and receive additional Science of Learning resources to help teach your students how to optimise their brain’s potential?

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