Growth Mindset

Pathway Progress:

Students with a growth mindset believe that they have the capacity to succeed in their studies and that their effort and persistence will result in achieving their learning goals. In contrast, those with what is known as a “fixed mindset” believe that they were born with specific aptitudes that cannot be changed. A common example of a fixed mindset is when people make statements such as, “I am just not good at writing,” or “I wasn’t born with a math gene.” The research shows that the combination of hard work, persistence and a growth mindset translate into improvement and success in all classes. For fully understanding growth mindset, both students and teachers should understand the learning science research around how the brain functions and synapse fire. Their depth of understanding could increase through the use of digital media (i.e., videos, audio, slide shows, etc.) 

Fixed mindset can contribute to anxiety. Growth mindset can alleviate anxiety. Fixed mindset can contribute to depression. Growth mindset can reduce the onset of depression. Fixed mindset feeds from external rewards and motivators. Growth mindset relies on intrinsic rewards and motivation. 

Growth Mindset: Growth mindset is the belief that an individual’s success is based on their effort and persistence. In comparison a fixed mindset is the belief that an individual is born with talent, skill, or lack thereof.  

Profile of a Student with a Growth Mindset

A student with a growth mindset… 

  • Likes to try new things 
  • Seeks out opportunities to learn more 
  • Understands that their individual effort matters 
  • Sees challenges as an opportunity to grow 
  • Spends little time comparing themselves to others 
  • Sees feedback from others as a critical part of learning 

Background on Growth Mindset 

At its core, growth mindset research suggests that if students believe their abilities are malleable, and they embrace adaptive beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that result in continuously improving achievement.  For some, developing a growth mindset in all children is one of the most logical economic investments for long-term wellness, opportunity, and success. As researchers have shown for some time, students with a growth mindset take on more challenges and persist through challenges. Growth mindset can be taught and intentionally developed. Today researchers and educators know a lot about what works and what doesn’t in terms of nurturing growth mindset in learning environments. 

Research Findings 

Having a growth mindset is continuously associated with students who are motivated, focused on goals, persistent in their efforts to master a task/skill, and find value in learning. It is important to remember that growth mindset is a cognitive dimension of well-being (as compared to a physiological or psychological domain with which it is often confused). Growth mindset interventions have been shown to improve math and reading scores/performance, especially when compared to interventions that are focused on content alone. But growth mindset interventions are intentional and happen over time. Some have equated growth mindset with being open minded and flexible (e.g., having a high tolerance for ambiguity), however those assumptions are inaccurate. Instead, growth mindset interventions build the capacity of students to use specific strategies, seek help, set goals, and more.  

For all educators, it is most important to realize that growth mindset does not come from words (e.g., “you can do it” or “don’t give up”). Educators are key to develop a true growth mindset in students, because it is choices, words, and practices in the learning environment that consistently nurture or detract from nurturing and sustaining a growth mindset. 

To improve the capacity of students to develop a growth mindset, educators can use the following research-based strategies. 

  1. Sharing representational stories of how effort translates into success. 
  2. Ensuring that all students work at and slightly above their current proficiency levels, which enables them to feel successful (working at current level), while also tackling challenging problems they are able to solve (with some scaffolding) to build confidence in their capacity to do so. 
  3. Redirect interactions between teachers and students from a focus on ability or outcome to a focus on process. 
  4. Helping students to understand that the brain is like a muscle—the more you exercise it and treat it right (with rest, food, etc.), the faster, stronger and more resilient it becomes. 

To learn more about these research-based strategies and access classroom examples, see the section in this Master Class oninstructional strategies.

The figure below depicts the combination of strategies that can increase growth mindset, a cornerstone of self-direction. This, in turn, builds toward deep authentic learning and readiness for college, career and life in a complex, global and digital age.