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Growth mindsets

Chris introduces Carol Dweck’s seminal work on how a students’ ‘mindset’ and self-belief can impact on their motivation and success in the classroom.
[Chris] Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets is a seminal piece of work that I believe all teachers should be aware of in terms of the learning environments they set up in their classrooms. Knowing and believing that you can learn is an essential step in being successful. It prevents barriers to learning and motivates you to try harder when learning gets tough. The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset, where the belief is that some children can learn and some cannot. With a fixed mindset, there are winners and losers. Losers tend to give up, and winners panic about staying in that winning group. Instead, a growth mindset tells learners that it’s worth trying to understand and put time, and energy, into learning.
In a growth-mindset scenario, a teacher’s role is in helping the learner find ways to improve, and differentiation becomes a vital part in setting up the right environment for this to happen.
In this video, Chris explains that when students believe that they can learn, they will be motivated to try harder when learning gets tough.
Chris introduces Carol Dweck’s seminal work on how a students’ ‘mindset’ and self-belief can impact on their motivation and success in the classroom.
In a short summary of some of Dwecks’ research, Trevor Ragan (2014) describes an experiment which explored how subtle differences in the type of praise given to students affected their ‘mindset’ and future test performance. Initially, students all sat an easy test, and were then either praised for their intelligence or for their effort:
“Wow great job – You must be really smart at this”
“Wow great job – You must have worked really hard at this”
Dweck then told the students that they could either take a more difficult test which would give them the opportunity to learn and grow, or they could take a similar test to the first one in which they would probably do very well again. 67% of the students that were praised for their intelligence chose the easier option, and 92% of the students that were praised for their effort chose the harder option. Dweck also found that students praised for intelligence tended to become frustrated and give up quickly when presented with more challenging work.
Those students who believed their ‘intelligence’ could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their ‘intelligence‘was fixed (a fixed mindset).
Some educators question whether a focus on growth mindset is effective. However, there is a substantial body of evidence that qualifies the ideas that encouraging students to focus on the process of learning (like hard work or trying new strategies), rather than the outcome, is beneficial for them as learners, as well as having the potential to foster a growth mindset.
If the work of Carol Dweck on mindsets is new to you we have provided links at the bottom of this page. In addition, Jackie Gerstein provides a useful visualisation on The Educator and the Growth Mindset, which conveys some key points.
In our course, Feedback for Learning we look at evidence-based approaches for using written and oral feedback to develop resilience and self-directed learners, without increasing your workload.


Think about the types of comments you make in class and how they affect student’s willingness engage with their work.
Which comments have led your students to tackle more challenging work? Share in the discussion below.
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