Psychologist Carol Dweck, who is known for her work on mindset and motivation, identifies two conceptual mindsets, fixed and growth, that largely define how we view our life, our work and our relationships. A fixed mindset indicates the belief that our intellectual abilities are ‘fixed’, or unchangeable as we go through our lives. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that our intellectual abilities can ‘grow’ and improve as we learn new things throughout our lives.
Dweck (2016) argues people with a fixed mindset view setbacks, such as getting a bad grade on a test, or being demoted from a job, as failure. “People with a fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place” (Dweck, 2016, p. 24). If a person has to work hard to achieve something it means that they are not ‘smart enough’ or ‘talented enough’. People with a fixed mindset consider talent an innate ability, therefore, they view working hard as a ‘waste of time’ since a person cannot improve.
A growth mindset provides people with the motivation to succeed because they believe that our intelligence is malleable and can grow over time. People with a growth mindset can see the correlation between their efforts to improve and the results they achieve, and they will keep trying until they are successful. They are confident that their efforts will be fruitful. As Dweck writes, “Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunkful of strategies.” (Dweck, 2016, p. 67).
Identifying the Mindset
“I just can’t learn math; I’m not good at it”
“Math is hard, but if I keep trying, I can get better at it”
|Believe intelligence is something you’re born with…or not
|Believe intelligence is the result of effort and continued work
|Desire to look smart, to avoid looking dumb
|Desire to learn, even if it takes effort
|Tend to see challenges as threatening
|Tend to embrace challenges as fun and exciting
|Tend to give up when things get hard
|Tend to persist in the face of setbacks
|Learn from criticism
|Feel threatened when others are successful
|Find inspiration and lessons in others’ successes
|See the path to success as something out of their control
|See their own effort as the path to success
Fostering a growth mindset at school
Here are tips to foster the development of a growth mindset:
A growth mindset gives our students the motivation to succeed academically because it allows them to see a correlation between their learning efforts, the use of effective strategies, and the results (Wilson, 2020). The first step at schools is to teach the students about the benefits of having a growth mindset and the ways to become a person with a growth mindset. Teachers can use specific materials that have been developed regarding this topic, but they also need to model having a growth mindset! Let our students see that we experience challenges, but we are motivated to overcome them through sustained effort (and the use of problem-solving and other strategies).
- Praise effort and learning process
- Display student work in progress
- Create a grading rubric focusing on effort
- Frame mistakes as part of learning
- Teach students how to find and access useful resources
- Communicate high expectations
- Teach students that the brain grows as we learn
“You can do anything” is a false growth mindset
Praising students by telling them that they can “do anything”, without linking the praise to strategies necessary for success, gives students the false idea that success and achievement are easy and effortless (Wilson, 2020). The best way for teachers to praise students for their hard work and effort is to link the praise to the outcome and the strategies they used to get to their goal (Dweck, 2016).
Pictures from our immersive learning workshops:
Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success (updated ed.). New York: Ballantine.
Dweck, C. S. (2019). The choice to make a difference. Perspective in Psychological Science, 14(1), 21–15.
Wilson, D., & Conyers, M. (2020). Developing Growth Mindsets. Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).