5 Tips to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom
The concept of a growth mindset, pioneered by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, is continuing to make an impact in the field of education and rising to the forefront of pedagogy due to recent advances in neuroscience.
As students head back to school this term, educators are preparing to not only address learning gaps but also drive student engagement and restore confidence after various unexpected changes due to the pandemic. As a complementary component to intervention, growth mindset could do the trick to assist educators. Let’s take a closer look at growth mindset, see what it can do for your students, and show how it can work in your classroom.
What Is Growth Mindset?
Simply put, our mindsets are beliefs about our most basic qualities and how we perceive our abilities. According to Dweck’s theory, when it comes to learning, a mindset can be classified as a fixed mindset or growth mindset. An individual with a fixed mindset believes intelligence is something innate—an aspect of every person’s nature at birth that cannot be altered or changed. An individual with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that intelligence is more like a muscle—something that can be developed, trained, and strengthened over time.
Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report found that having a growth mindset is associated with positive attitudes toward learning—motivation, self-efficacy, less fear of failure, ambitious learning goals, and appreciation of the value of school. These positive attitudes toward learning can result in higher academic achievement.
Can Mindset Really Impact Student Success?
The short answer is, in most cases, yes. According to the 2018 PISA report, students who were taught a growth mindset dramatically outperformed their peers with fixed mindsets, although there were outliers in which this was not the case. Also, teaching growth mindset was shown to potentially counter the disadvantages of low-income students on academic success.
Research has shown that a fixed mindset, as opposed to a growth mindset, has major impacts on student learning. Individuals who believe their ability to learn is innate may avoid asking questions or seeking help, may be less motivated to put effort into schoolwork, and may not reach their full potential because they believe they already have. In contrast, those who subscribe to a growth mindset generally perform better both academically and socially, embrace challenges, and achieve higher rates of overall success.
Furthermore, a recent article published by OECD reported that, on average across countries who participated in the 2018 PISA study, students who present a growth mindset score higher than their peers with a fixed mindset. According to their findings, a growth mindset could even help vulnerable students who are at the greatest risk of poor performance by helping to buffer the negative effects of biased perceptions, curbed aspirations, and economic deprivation on students’ academic achievement.
It’s easy to see why promoting a growth mindset in the classroom could help nurture a more positive classroom culture, but it’s just as important that educators are subscribing to the belief as well to give it a fighting chance. Here are a few simple ways that you can make sure that you are fostering a growth mindset in your classroom:
1. Buy in wholeheartedly
The first key to establishing a growth mindset in your classroom is believing in it yourself. Take time to reflect on your own personal attitudes about learning. Are there subjects or activities you avoid or dislike because you aren’t “good” at them? A fixed mindset can easily breed the belief that if you are not immediately successful at something, there is no point in putting forth any effort in the future.
This kind of attitude could be harmful not only to your own personal success but to your students’ as well. Giving in to the idea that if something is difficult to learn, you “just aren’t going to get it” deprives you valuable learning opportunities and experiences. When you catch yourself falling into a fixed mindset, try to switch up your thinking and carry that new attitude into your classroom.
2. Encourage hard work, not cleverness
Who doesn’t love being told they are smart? It’s a great feeling—and one everyone deserves to experience. But, while it’s important to be supportive of students, applauding them for cleverness alone may not be beneficial in the long run. Instead of telling your students something like “you’re smart” when they accomplish something, compliment their process and their progress.
Although a growth mindset does recognize that not all students will have the same abilities across all subjects, acknowledging the work they put into learning something rather than their inherent abilities helps encourage a sense of accomplishment in students as opposed to pride. In turn, they’ll be more motivated to continue improving.
3. Recognize the opportunity in failure
Sometimes, for any number of reasons, students fail. It’s an unavoidable part of learning (and life) and a frustrating one at that. Failure and mistakes can create anxiety, especially when they occur in an environment where something negative, like a bad grade, embarrassment, or even punishment, could happen as a result. Fear of failure can prevent students from stepping outside of their comfort zone and may even cause them to avoid challenges or shut down when faced with certain obstacles. But, handled in the right way, failure holds a lot of opportunity.
When students are unsuccessful in a particular lesson or skill, remind them they are not “failing”—they just haven’t succeeded yet. Remind your class that failure or mistakes are not final outcomes; they are a chance to start over or try again.
4. Step out of your own comfort zone
As education becomes more and more innovative, it’s important for educators to demonstrate the power of some wisely calculated risk-taking by stepping out of their own comfort zones in the classroom. Open yourself to trying out new teaching practices every now and again, and if you try something new with your class that doesn’t work out, be straight-forward with your students about what you think worked, what didn’t, and what you can improve. Invite them to give you feedback, and apply it when possible. Your students look up to you, and by setting the example that when things don’t work out perfectly, that just means there is opportunity to improve, you’re showing them how to practice a growth mindset.
5. Don’t forget about formative assessment
Formative assessment is a strategy perfectly designed to foster a growth mindset in your classroom. Formative assessment activities are designed to be quick, low-pressure checks for understanding. Not only do they help you keep tabs on students’ progress and make adjustments, but they’ll also encourage students to be upfront about what they’re struggling with and ask for help when it’s needed. Exit tickets, journaling, and other creative formative assessment tactics are great ways to build a feedback loop in your classroom that fosters continuous improvement.
Growth mindset is a not a cure-all; it’s not as simple as cheerleading students to academic improvement. Rather, growth mindset teaches individuals to embrace challenges and learn from setbacks by praising and celebrating progress and the process of learning, not just effort. As a complement to intervention, encouraging a growth mindset in students can help drive success.
This post was originally published September 2016 and has been updated.