How to Apply Growth Mindset in Schools




All month, #growthmindset has been trending on Twitter, a topic that was highlighted in a general session talk at the 2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show in Atlanta by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Education Week has made available a video of Dweck’s entire sixty minute talk, entitled “The Journey to a Growth Mindset,” on their website. A growth mindset is not a panacea, but it does empower kids and help them learn,” she explained to the Atlanta audience.

Growth mindset is the understanding that you can develop your abilities, which in turn drives motivation, growth and performance. The concept dovetails well with education. Teachers have the power to promote a growth mindset in their students simply by how they offer them praise for a job well done. The difference between a statement like "you did a great job, you must be really smart" and "you did a great job, you must have really worked hard" may not be noticeable to a teacher until you think about this: The first statement implies to a student that if they couldn't complete the task successfully, they must not be smart because they weren't born smart. The second phrase subtly reminds students that it was through their grit and perseverance that they succeeded, a growth mindset. 

It was late in 2007 that Dweck, after decades of research on achievement and success, published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It was in this book that she first introduced the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets and started educators thinking about a student’s mindset would affect their performance in the classroom. In a 2012 interview, Dweck explained the differences between a fixed and a growth mindset in this way:

"In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."

Dweck’s research and advancement of the growth mindset concept has inspired educators all over the country to rethink how they approach instruction and what they can do to foster the growth mindset in their students. Late last year, in an Education Week article, Dweck revisited the topic of growth mindset. In this article she referenced several pitfalls and misunderstandings about growth mindset and what teachers can do to overcome them. Most importantly, she stressed that growth mindset is not simply about effort. She wrote, “Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. 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.” She also cautioned teachers not to use a lack of growth mindset as an excuse for why a child isn’t learning. “I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.” When asked how teachers could adopt a deeper, true growth mindset, she stated: “Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset. Let’s acknowledge that (1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) we will probably always be, and (3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.”

Education Week’s Evie Blad summarizes six tips that Dweck offers teachers for nurturing growth mindsets in their classrooms:

1.      Acknowledge the nuance in the research.
2.      Everyone has a fixed mindset sometimes.
3.      Name your fixed mindset.
4.      Move beyond effort.
5.      Put mindsets into a greater school-culture context.
6.      Don’t use mindsets to label students (or yourselves).

How will you use the growth mindset philosophy to foster learning with your students?

Article written originally for Multibriefs Education.

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