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Growth Mindset

Do you believe that intelligence is a fixed trait or that intelligence can be developed?

Brain research tells us that the more a person practices a skill, the more neural pathways the brain creates in the area required for that skill.  In this way, your piano teacher was right – “practice makes perfect” – well, perhaps not perfect, but better.

Beliefs about whether intelligence and ability are predetermined can be described as either fixed mindset or growth mindset.

Comparing Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset


Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
Believe intelligence is static Believe intelligence is malleable
Avoid challenges in favor of easier tasks that allow them to look smart. Seek challenges in order to grow intelligence and become smarter.
Setback is a sign that they are not smart enough and cannot do this task. Will avoid similar tasks in future. Setback is a sign that they need more practice and with that they will improve. Will seek similar task in the future.

Dweck examined the effects of having a growth mindset in a study of seventh graders with declining math grades. Students were randomly divided in to two groups. Group A received an intervention in which they were taught study skills. Group B received an intervention in which they were taught study skills and a growth-mindset. Group A continued to decline in math, but Group B showed improvement in their grades. Teachers also observed increased motivation in Group B along with higher grades and better homework habits.

As a teacher, your mindset matters. When low-achieving students spend the year with a fixed-mindset teacher, they tend to remain low-achievers at the end of the year. However, when low-achieving students spend the year with a growth-mindset teacher, they often rise to be moderate or high achievers. Growth-mindset teachers also tend to encourage students efforts to improve, give specific recommendations for learning skills, and view the learning process as a collaboration between themselves and the students. By adopting a growth mindset and communicating that belief to your students, you help them become more resilient in the face of challenges and more motivated to work at learning.

What’s one thing I can do to use this in my classroom?

Our language matters.  Even when we praise achievement, we must be careful to use growth-mindset terms.  There are two types of praise.  Growth-mindset praise cites the effort or process the student employed: “You did a good job on this paper.”   When growth-mindset praise is give students feel encouraged to make greater efforts or seek more challenges.  Fixed-mindset praise cites the intrinsic intelligence of the student: “You are a good writer.”  When praise of innate qualities is given, the fixed mindset is encouraged and student show more “helpless behaviors” and avoidance of challenges after setbacks.

Links to learn more:

  • MindsetOnline.com – The website for Carol Dweck’s book Mindset
  • Mindset Works and Brainology– A “social venture which helps human beings realize their full potential,” Mindset Works is based on the research of Dweck and Blackwell. It includes information for teachers, students, and parents about growth mindset.  Brainology is an online program aimed at students that teaches growth mindset.
  • Education Week Teacher Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo on Growth Mindset – Carol Dweck and Lisa Blackwell, Professors at Stanford University, answer the question “What are actions teachers can take to help their students develop a growth mindset?

References and Research:

  • Cimpian, A., Arce, H.-M. C., Markman, E. M., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Subtle Linguistic Cues Affect Children’s Motivation. Physological Science, 19(4), 314-316.
  • Dweck, C. S. (2010, January). Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. Principal Leadership, 26-29.

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