Power of Yet: helping students develop a growth mindset

by | Sep 20, 2020 | Tips & Tricks

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT, Founder

Power of yet. Google those words and you will find posters, songs, videos, and articles. An entire teaching model was built around the idea of an A, B,C, not there yet philosophy. If you’ve been a teacher for half a minute, you’ve heard the buzz word “growth mindset.”  

The phrase “the power of yet” was coined by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. Obviously it’s a hot topic, and this idea of “yet” has found its way into the classroom. 

The reality is that students and teachers both have a fixed mindset about certain things. It may be “I’m no good at math.” “I will never be able to read that book.” or “I can’t teach like …” The list goes on, and we’ve all been guilty of saying this.

Imagine if a baby tried to walk across a room, fell down, and decided, “That’s it. I can’t walk!”

But what happens is they get up; they fall down; they get up again; they fall down again. This happens over and over until they take two steps, then three and then eventually walk across the room and are soon running every place they go.

We can learn a lot from babies and apply it to our own lives. Instead of feeling defeated and giving up, like the determined baby, we can develop the mindset of “I can’t walk, YET!”

Foster the Power of Yet in your classroom

Try these ideas with your students to foster the power of yet.

Allow retries

Let students continue to try until they “get it.” Testing and grades have created in all of us a mindset of sink or swim, when in reality we may need to let students float for a while. When feasible, let students redo and retry until it is clear they understand. 

This may mean they get to retake quizzes and tests or rewrite papers. Some teachers see this as blasphemy to the education world they know, but if our main objective is to get students to learn, then is there really any harm? 

The power of yet teaches students:

  • that they can learn
  • that learning takes time and effort
  • that results come from hard work
  • that giving up isn’t an option 

Given the choice of failing a student who is not there yet or helping them learn, the power of yet, shouldn’t be a tough choice.

Free Poster download 24X36 poster size pdf file.

Rethink some deadlines 

Some students are brilliant and will understand your material and perform well no matter how little or how much time you allow. Others may need longer. If they can learn the material in a week, what takes others only two days, does that make them less successful or just on a different time table? 

In a full classroom that is incredibly hard, but generally you have a few who master material very quickly and a few who move very slowly. With just a few tweaks, it is possible to develop an enrichment plan that allows the quick learners to move on to something more challenging, while you allow the slower learners a slower pace and to keep the regular pace with the rest of the class. 

Differentiated learning is another one of those education buzz words that fits nicely with the power of yet. I believe in the importance of deadlines, and suggest that you make and keep deadlines with each student. However, I am also a believer in second chances and if they meet the deadline, but need more time to master the material, I think it is okay to ask them to redo their work or to continue until they get it.  

Praise the process, not just the outcome

True we live in a standardized test culture that only cares about a number on a test result to determine worth. However, as teachers we know that number does not reflect our students. To help develop the “not yet” growth mindset we can start by incorporating that into our daily vocabulary and conversations in the classroom. 

By focusing more on the learning process and less on the final score, students will begin to learn that there are multiple ways to reach an end result and that the path isn’t the same for everyone.

Speed doesn’t equal learning

Think back to the speed times tables tests many of us had to endure. The students who could say their times tables in a set amount of time were rewarded– not for learning their multiplication tables but for their ability to say it quickly. Students who also knew their content were not recognized for their learning but were left out because they were not able to say them quickly enough. 

I was one of the students who could say them quickly, but looking back, that was a stressful, meaningless experience. I think of the students who felt they weren’t as smart when that was not the case at all. As teachers we need to remember that learning something quickly does not mean that it is learned better. Instead, we need to teach students to be realistic about the time and effort involved in learning

Use failure as a learning tool

Looking back at your own life, what have been some of your biggest lessons? If you are like most of us, the times we failed are when we learned the most. When students face unsuccessful moments, how we respond and how we teach them to respond can be very powerful. 

If we say, “Well this was a hard concept, you’ll do better next time,” or “Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one who failed,” we are reinforcing a fixed mindset. Statements like, “What can we do  next?” or “What have you learned from this?” teach our students that this is a process and that it’s not the end. It opens up the possibilities for learning.

Encourage creativity and alternative methods

Learning is not one size fits all and our expectations and outcomes should not be either. The standards you need mastered are set by the state, but the way students get there is not. This allows teachers to develop multiple paths and the older the student is, the easier it is to have them help develop that path. 

For example, you can assess the same standards through presentations, videos, papers, tests, and projects. They may be assessed individually, in pairs, or in groups. This flexibility encourages students to expand their learning and encourages developing growth mindset.

Teach students how to set goals

When students look at the big picture it is easy to become discouraged because it often seems insurmountable. When we teach the power of yet and help students develop a growth mindset, we need to teach them how to get there. Even high school students have a difficult time breaking down achievable steps. 

As teachers, we can show them how to take a big task and chunk it into smaller steps. Actually have students write down these goals, mark them off when accomplished, and reflect on what they learned from them. When students start seeing small successes that lead to bigger goals, they gain confidence and renewed effort. These small wins lead to a growth mindset.

Model growth mindset for your students

Students need to see that their teachers are also growing and learning. So, don’t be afraid to share your own growth mindset with them. When you are learning something new (a new application, a college class, a new hobby) share those experiences with your class. Tell them about your troubles and mistakes. Share similar experiences you may have had growing up (you struggled in math, you had to repeat kindergarten, you had a learning disability). 

These moments of sharing allow students to see that they aren’t the only ones who struggle. Observing how you handle challenges and develop your own growth mindset and use the power of yet will be instrumental in helping them develop their own.

Don’t assume only the slow learners need growth mindset

As teachers we need to be aware of the tendency for high achievers to excel at what comes easily and to give up when it becomes difficult so that we can help them develop a growth mindset as well.

Developing resiliency and a growth mindset is often difficult for the high achievers in class. This is because they have not often been challenged, so when they are challenged or have difficulty with a subject, they often hit a wall. They do not know how to handle it. You may hear, “This is stupid,” “I don’t like this,” or “I don’t want to do this.”

These students aren’t being stubborn or rude. This is a sign the student is shutting down and pushing against the uncomfortable feeling of not being “the best.” We need to teach them that challenges are good for our brains and that we can break through limits of our comfort zone. They will need the same careful assistance to develop a growth mindset instead of shutting down.

Teach students to reflect

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned can help them develop a growth mindset. This can be done as a class discussion so that you can model the process. 

For example, when you finish a project, discuss what went well, what could have been done differently, what was learned, and how the project could be improved next time. This allows students to see that everything is a work in progress and that the process of learning is important for the future.

Journal entries are a great way for students to process their own learning. 

Try reflection questions like:

  • What did I do well during this project?
  • What do I need to work on next time?
  • How did I handle challenges during this project?
  • What is one thing I would change about this assignment?
  • What do I want to do differently next time?

The results of the Power of Yet

Teaching students the power of yet teaches them a life skill that will enable them to face challenges and to value the art of perseverance. It enables them to see that their efforts can pay off. 

Students who understand the power of yet develop a growth mindset. This growth mindset is the belief that they are in control of their abilities and that they can learn and improve. That belief is what will lead to success because they believe that they (not their teacher, not their parent, not their life circumstances) are in control of their learning and their future. 

What a beautiful gift we can give our students.

FREE download of Power of Yet! poster.


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Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder


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