Growth Mindset: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

What is the significance of a growth mindset in the classroom and how can we promote the development of it in our learners?

What is a Growth Mindset?

We often carry around misconceptions about our inherent abilities. If we were to take a skill such as a creative ability like drawing, many adults are very quick to talk about their achievement gaps in this area. When we hear a child say 'I can't do that', they are actually telling us 'I can't do that yet'. According to a theory of intelligence, people can be categorized on basis of their implicit conceptions about ability. People with a growth mindset believe that they can develop abilities through study and effort; whereas, persons with a fixed mindset consider themselves to have an innate ability that is static. In the world of learning, it's not just 'exceptional' people that achieve academically. With a positive mindset and good effort, a pupil can attain high levels.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University proposed the fixed vs growth mindset theory. Comparing the differences between growth and fixed mindset behaviours and outlooks will help to understand what a growth mindset is. Individuals with a growth mindset often have a more positive outlook and are better at dealing with setbacks. Academic achievement is dependent on being able to deal with setbacks so the work of Carol Dweck is worth our attention.

Growth and fixed mindsets greatly affect how people respond to failure. Individuals with a growth mindset view their failure as an opportunity to broaden their abilities and to work smarter and harder. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset feel that their lack of intellectual abilities is the root cause of their failure.

What is Carol Dwek's Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset Theory?

The growth mindset vs. fixed mindset contradiction can be illustrated in terms of goals. According to Carol Dwek, individuals with a growth mindset are much less anxious about how others will perceive their level of intelligence because they think that they can improve their basic abilities and knowledge through their effort and hard work. Persons with a fixed mindset want to be called intelligent as they think that failing to prove to be intelligent would reveal their weakness. In simple words, people with a growth mindset are ready to overcome challenges; whereas, those with a fixed mindset don't want to appear 'unintelligent'.

Since the incredible concept of fixed vs. growth mindsets is simple, in reality, the designations of mindset are very much nuanced. A major factor of mindsets is that mindsets can be different in different scenarios. For instance, some people may have a fixed mindset in education, but at the same time, they may have a growth mindset in athletics.

Moreover, a mindset is not an immovable or permanent state. The growth or fixed mindset rests on a spectrum, and their positions may fluctuate. For example, someone may have a potent growth mindset in math, but an extremely difficult problem may trigger a reaction that is more consistent with a fixed mindset.

According to Carol Dweck's idea of growth mindset, a lavishing graduate student who receives praise, gains confidence that results in improved academic achievement.

Mindset specialists put forward a different approach. Rather than praising students for their current achievement or successful learning outcomes—teachers need to pay more attention to praising students’ efforts and their initiatives to face the challenges and make progress. This may reinforce the simplest but strong idea that successful people are those who are always ready to improve their current level of inherent abilities through hard work.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset
Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

What is the significance of a Growth Mindset in Education?

According to Carol Dweck, it is more beneficial to praise students’ efforts in education rather than their intelligence; as it may encourage them to face more difficult challenges. In another study,  her research showed that the learners who were taught how to build their level of intelligence performed far better in education and demonstrated more motivation in the learning experience.

Also, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to become successful people, as they are more ready to accept new information. This allows learners with growth mindset to become more open to learning in the future. When a learner perceives that he may achieve anything by way of hard work, he may show better academic performance and more motivation to dig into his course content.

There are many other benefits of acquiring growth mindset activities in education, for example, learners with a growth mindset are more likely to show more confidence to face challenges and to achieve high-risk goals. Also, they exhibit better brain development; lesser anxiety, stress and depression; higher human motivation; higher performance levels; and better work relationships.

The Universal Thinking Framework is a child-friendly taxonomy that explains all of the brain processes involved in learning. These internal processes can be understood and practised and they help children understand that learning is indeed learnable. When integrated into classrooms it can help teachers explain what success looks like. The colour-coded icons can be used to break down academic tasks into granular processes that everyone can achieve. Having all these internal processes mapped out and explained in plain English enables children to make decisions about how to move their thinking forward. This can help a child see how malleable intelligence is. Growth-minded people can take a task and chunk it down into achievable activities.

Use the thinking framework to help students develop a growth mindset
Use the thinking framework to help students develop a growth mindset

What are the most effective strategies to foster a Growth Mindset in students?

Research suggests that teachers need to demonstrate deliberate practice into their everyday classroom practices to help students develop a growth mindset; however, many of these methods can be easily applied in their existing classroom practices. Following are some of the most effective strategies that can help teachers foster a growth mindset in children.

  1. Engage students through Challenges: Teachers can encourage their students' engagement with challenges by portraying easy tasks as boring and by portraying challenges as fun and exciting.
  2. Normalize struggle: Teachers may foster a growth mindset in children by demonstrating struggle as an essential component of the learning process. Reinforcing and emphasizing this idea makes students react positively in case of a challenging task.
  3. Stay positive: Staying positive in the classroom may help teachers to develop a growth mindset in children. For example, using the word “yet”. If a student says “I’m not good at Math,” incorporating a simple qualifier will show that the student may still show better academic performance and develop the ability. “You’re not good at math yet.”
  4. Indicate errors and celebrate corrections: According to the Social Psychology Theory, errors should be seen as lifelong learning opportunities. For example, in an elementary school, teachers can model this attitude in reaction to their errors and in whatever they do to fix a mistake.
  5. Highlight the significance of difficult tasks to the brain: It is suggested to promote the concept of brain plasticity, that our brains are the malleable “muscles” that may grow and reorganize. Neuroscience studies show that the belief that our inherent intelligence can be improved has a demonstrative impact on attitude and academic achievement.

Use Graphic organisers to help students develop a growth mindset
Use Graphic organisers to help students develop a growth mindset

  1. Set Objectives: According to several Growth Mindset Studies, having learners and employees set incremental, attainable goals demonstrates the achievability of educational progress and career success.
  2. Group work: Working in groups to perform tasks emphasizes process and highlights the importance of seeking help to find a solution. This is a growth mindset intervention that reduces the importance of individual learning outcomes.
  3. Offering challenges: An important aspect of building a growth mindset is to teach students to overcome barriers. Engaging students in complex academic tasks or teaching a difficult concept to children that may stretch their abilities can offer opportunities for growth and next-level of instruction that supports the learning process.
  4. Avoid oversimplifying: According to Developmental Psychology theory, it may seem harmless to encourage primary and secondary school students by saying statements like “You can achieve everything!” but if learners aren’t put in a place where they have to overcome barriers, they’ll think that such statements are meaningless, and the teacher may lose credibility.
  5. Don't praise intelligence: This may appear contrary to the expectation, but praise for “showing smartness” may reinforce the concept that intelligence is a fixed trait that can never be improved or grown. This may prove to be negative feedback because it may demotivate both; the pupil being praised (“I’m intelligent; I don’t have to put more effort”), and those who were not praised (“I'm not intelligent; That student is intelligent”).

A growth mindset has been widely adopted in the field of education as well as within the business world. But, this concept also has its critics. Critics of Growth Mindset Revolution point out that there is only a little evidence to support Dweck’s results, and most of the corroborating research has been done by Dweck and her collaborators. There is a need to fill the gap in the research and to remove common misconceptions about growth mindset in education.

Writer's block being used to enhance the learning process
Writer's block being used to enhance the learning process