A growth mindset is an increasingly popular concept that’s been gaining attention in a variety of contexts, from work to school, skill building, and overall life approaches. Here’s how a growth mindset is defined, why it’s so helpful for students, and how teachers can work to foster growth mindsets in their classrooms.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work. It contrasts with a fixed mindset, where individuals believe their abilities are innate and cannot be changed. This concept was first introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck. She explains that a fixed mindset views talents, abilities, personality, and character as a hand one is dealt in a card game and must play. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Dweck writes:
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Dweck's research shows that individuals with a growth mindset tend to be more resilient and achieve greater success in their personal and professional lives. They view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as threats to their self-esteem. They embrace the process of learning, rather than merely focusing on the end result.
On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges and fear failure, as it may threaten their sense of identity and intelligence. They may also give up more easily when faced with obstacles, as they believe their abilities are set in stone.
Dweck's work highlights the importance of cultivating a growth mindset, not just in individuals, but in educational environments as well. By promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement, teachers and schools can foster greater creativity, innovation, and resilience.
A Growth Mindset for Students
- Encouraging resilience: Students with a growth mindset view setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as indications of their innate abilities. This helps them bounce back from setbacks more easily and persist in the face of challenges.
- Promoting a love of learning: A learning mindset focused on growth emphasizes the process of learning rather than the end result. Students who adopt this mindset are more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to explore new ideas and topics.
- Increasing academic achievement: Research has shown that students with a growth mindset perform better academically than those with a fixed mindset. This holds true even for disadvantaged students from low-income and marginalized communities, making a growth mindset an important tool for tackling inequity in education.
- Fostering creativity and innovation: Students with a growth mindset are more likely to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and think outside the box. This trial-and-error process is a key part of a growth mindset. Recently, Dweck emphasized: “Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.”
- Boosting self-esteem: A growth mindset can also have a positive impact on students' self-esteem. By recognizing that their abilities can be developed through effort and hard work, students are less likely to feel discouraged by setbacks or compare themselves unfavorably to others.
- Enhancing problem-solving skills: Students with a growth mindset are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and seek out new strategies and solutions. This can help them become more effective problem-solvers both inside and outside of the classroom.
Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Classroom
Because a growth mindset has so many clear benefits for students, it’s important for teachers to foster that attitude where they can. Their role in helping their students develop a growth mindset is critical. Here are some strategies teachers can use to help accomplish this:
- Use the power of "yet": Encourage students to add the word "yet" to the end of statements such as "I can't do this" to highlight the possibility of achievement.
- Praise effort and persistence: This helps students understand that success comes from hard work, not just innate ability or talent.
- Provide opportunities for growth: Teachers can design lessons that challenge students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and help them build new skills. These opportunities for growth encourage students to develop a growth mindset and see challenges as ways to learn and improve.
- Encourage self-reflection: Teachers can encourage students to reflect on their own learning processes and identify areas where they need to improve, helping students become more self-aware and in control of their education.
- Model a growth mindset: Teachers should model a growth mindset themselves by sharing their own struggles and emphasizing the effort and persistence they put into their own work. This can help students see that everyone experiences setbacks and that success comes from hard work and dedication.
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American University School of Education (2020, December 10). How to Foster a Growth Mindset in the Classroom. American University School of Education. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/growth-mindset-in-the-classroom/
Armstrong, K. (2019, October 29). Carol Dweck on How Growth Mindsets Can Bear Fruit in the Classroom. Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/dweck-growth-mindsets
Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(31), 8664-8668. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1608207113
Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'. Education Week. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://www.studentachievement.org/wp-content/uploads/Carol-Dweck-Revisits-the-Growth-Mindset.pdf