Over the past few years, the concept of a 'Growth Mindset' has become increasingly popular. Discovered by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, growth mindset is the idea that our intelligence isn't fixed. Dweck found that students who believe they can develop their basic abilities and improve themselves have greater motivation and higher achievement than those who see their abilities as fixed and unchangeable.
In her TED TALK, Dr Dweck explains a study where children were taught that, as they push to the edge of their comfort zone, their brains can form new stronger neural connections. Her studies showed significantly improved achievements in a wide range of age groups and settings, particularly disadvantaged students.
Does it have value in the classroom?
Despite its popularity, the concept has recently been criticized. Efforts to replicate Dweck's work in the classroom have not worked because, according to Dweck, you can't actually 'teach' growth mindset, it's more subtle than that.
Dweck insists that it is about showing pupils what to think, rather than simply telling them.
“Growth mindset is about embodying it in all the everyday practices that educators do. Presenting material with students’ understanding that you think they can all learn it to a high level. It’s collaborating with students, and giving feedback to them on their learning processes. It’s about helping children to relish challenges, because the challenges can help them grow their abilities.”
So is there value in teaching the concept of growth mindset at all? Growth mindset may not need to be taught explicitly, but children of all ages can benefit from being taught the language of meta-cognition, which allows them to be aware of their own thoughts and of how they make decisions about their own learning and effort.
Can teachers benefit from adopting it too?
In short, yes. Some people even argue that it is the key to successful PD, because PD should be approached with the same attributes of a growth mindset; with hard work, a focus on improving and embracing failing as a chance to learn.
Others, however, believe that it is more nuanced and not something you can just adopt. It needs to be embraced culturally in a school, rather than just by individuals.
How to think with a growth mindset
1. Tell yourself you can do it – Your internal dialogue has a great effect on how you think about things. Giving yourself reasons and excuses as to why you can’t do something are attributes of a fixed mindset. Believing in yourself and thinking that you can are attitudes of a growth mindset.
2. Realize you have a choice – Acknowledge that it is up to you whether you have a fixed or growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means you have the ability to realize that you can improve if you want to, and that whether you improve or not is up to you.
3. Choose difficult tasks – Putting yourself out there and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone means that you’ll either succeed in an area you thought you might struggle in, or you’ll learn from the experience. Having a growth mindset means you would be happy with either outcome; as you’d recognize that both are ways of improving.
4. Seek new learning opportunities – Actively seeking to try out new practices and ideas means that you are taking control of your own professional learning. Discussing both successes and failures with like-minded colleagues means you can help each other improve.
5. Use growth mindset language – Try to maintain a growth mindset in everything that you do. The language you use when giving your students, colleagues and even yourself feedback will help develop either growth or fixed mindsets. Highlighting permanent traits, such as: ‘You’ve done so well. You must be so smart!’ can lead to people thinking with fixed mindsets. Instead, center your feedback around effort and determination, such as: ‘You must have worked really hard for this test, and your dedication is reflected in your grade’ or ‘you must have put a lot of effort into planning this lesson, it was very well thought through.’
The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” - Dweck 2012