As an educator, you’re constantly on the lookout for strategies you can implement in your classroom to help foster positive outcomes for your students. You’re genuinely dedicated to helping students discover their true potential. That means you’re willing to try everything from assigning readings that can introduce them to new experiences to including activities that really get them out of their comfort zones.
One increasingly popular teaching strategy has less to do with lesson plans and curriculum and more to do with a teacher’s overall approach to student interaction and instruction. It’s something Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck has spent much of her career studying — what she calls the “growth mindset.” The education field has been listening intently.
To explore how modeling a growth mindset can be beneficial, we consulted the insight of Sasha Crowley, host of a webinar on the topic and instructional designer for Brandman University. With insight from both Dweck and Crowley, we uncovered the true impact a growth mindset can have on students of all ages and abilities. Read what they have to say and find out if this widely supported teaching strategy could lead you to greater success in your own classroom.
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset: Pinpointing the differences
Early in her career, Dweck observed that some children face challenges differently than others. While some have the tendency to shy away from obstacles, others become more engaged, welcoming challenges as opportunities. She has since spent decades unpacking this concept. Dweck also discusses it in great depth in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
A growth mindset, as Dweck defines it, is best understood when contrasted with a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe everyone’s abilities are unchanging — they view a person’s talents and skills as things that are essentially predetermined at birth and set in stone. Alternatively, people with a growth mindset believe that skills and qualities are things that can be cultivated through effort and perseverance.
A growth mindset, Dweck asserts, empowers people to believe they can develop their abilities — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that are essential for accomplishment in just about any sphere.
“This is such a powerful concept when we think about our students,” Crowley says. She adds that it’s easy for students to assume high-achievers got to where they are through talent alone, but that’s rarely the case. “What successful people know is that the path to success is going to be really challenging. You’ll have to dig in. You’ll have to develop grit and persistence. And you’ll need to believe that you’re capable, not letting anything hold you back.”
The true impact of a growth mindset for teachers’ classrooms
Dweck’s research has shown that it’s possible to teach students how to develop a growth mindset – as a result, student engagement and performance can markedly improve. To dig further into why a growth mindset can impact students’ performance, it’s important to consider the related aspects of how our brains actually work.
Recent advances in neuroscience have determined that our brains are much more malleable than was once believed. Research on brain plasticity, for example, has demonstrated that connectivity between neurons can change as we amass experiences. Neural networks can grow new connections, strengthen existing ones and even speed up the transmission of impulses. Such findings suggest that through strategies like asking questions and practicing difficult tasks, we can increase our neural growth.
Research has also found that if a person simply believes their brain can grow, they can experience new and different outcomes. For example, it was found that seventh graders who were taught that intelligence is malleable showed a clear increase in math grades.
How to spot fixed and growth mindsets in your classroom
Teachers who hope to implement a growth mindset in their classrooms must first identify the learning mindsets currently at play among their students. Consider the following observations from Dweck as you think about the kids you teach:
- When students have more of a fixed mindset, they see challenges as risky. With this way of thinking, encountering obstacles or criticism becomes “proof” that they don’t have the abilities needed to succeed.
- When students adopt a growth mindset, they view challenges as a way of progressing toward their desired outcome. Students who believe they can develop their talents and abilities see roadblocks and critical feedback as ways to gather information they could use to help themselves learn.
“A person who has a fixed mindset really views themselves as more of a finished product, believing they’re not really capable of more,” Crowley explains. “With a fixed mindset, a person can get stuck in a cycle of trying to prove themselves.”
In contrast, Crowley points out that students with growth mindsets see themselves as works in progress. “They know they don’t have to have all the answers,” she adds. “As a result, they’re very open to feedback. Instead of giving up in the face of challenges, they keep going because they believe they’re capable of achieving the goal.”
Need a few more ideas on how you can distinguish between the two? Crowley offers the following distinctions between students with a fixed mindset and students with a growth mindset:
- Fixed mindset:
- Their goal is to look smart.
- They tend to avoid challenges.
- They give up easily.
- They do not see the point of effort.
- They ignore feedback.
- They feel threatened by the success of others.
- Growth mindset:
- Their goal is to learn.
- They embrace challenges.
- They persist when there are setbacks.
- They see effort as the path to mastery.
- They learn from feedback.
- They find inspiration in the success of others.
Learn how to implement a growth mindset in your classroom
“What I love about the concept of a growth mindset is that it’s something you can implement into your classroom without making huge curricular changes,” Crowley says. She notes that you can simply blend it into the language you use to talk to your students. But there are also some approaches that can help you design your lessons in ways that leverage the tenets of a growth mindset.
Crowley highlights the following four strategies:
- Praise the process, not just the result.
- Communicate realistic expectations of outcomes.
- Establish a culture that promotes effort, learning and resilience.
- Facilitate positive self-talk.
Crowley maintains that implementing a growth mindset within your classroom can transform the ways your students view themselves and their abilities for the rest of their lives. Once they’re open to the philosophy, their potential becomes limitless.
Revolutionize your classroom
If you’re intrigued by the prospect of helping foster a growth mindset for students in your classroom, you can now use the insight from Dweck and Crowley to make this a reality in your classroom. Simply observing the different mindsets in your students is a good place to start.
For more of Sasha Crowley’s thoughts on the topic, you can listen to the entirety of her webinar, “Growth mindset: The key to unlocking student success.”