What is Growth Mindset?

In a nutshell:
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life”.1 Mindset is that view. She outlines two predominant mindsets about intelligence. 

Simply stated, someone with a “growth mindset” believes the brain is like a muscle. By challenging it, stretching it, and exercising it regularly, they believe their brain can become stronger and they can become smarter. This sits in opposition to a more traditional “fixed mindset” notion that intelligence is inherited like eye color. You get what you get and there is little to nothing you can do to change it.

Students with a growth mindset react to failures differently than students with a fixed mindset.

upset studentThe fixed mindset causes students to blame failure on external barriers, or worse yet, on an internal, irreversible deficit of intelligence.

Students with a fixed mindset give up after small failures or critical feedback. Failure reinforces the internal voice they hear saying, “I can’t”.

student with growth mindsetLearners with a growth mindset enjoy challenge, even if failure is a possibility. The growth mindset encourages flexibility, problem-solving, and experimentation with new methods of learning.

Instead of failure being interpreted as “I can’t”, growth mindset reframes the viewpoint as “not yet”.

Why bother?
Many recent and ongoing studies with high school and college students show that we can foster and build growth mindset in students. When we do, they persist from semester to semester at higher levels, achieve higher grades, and the achievement gaps decrease.2 For a deep dive into the research, check out http://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/.

The how-to guide:
Let’s take a second to reframe the application of mindset. Instead of thinking about how students see themselves, how do you see them?

Take some time for self-growth this semester by reflecting on some of the following questions:

professor reflecting

  • Do you, as an educator, believe that brains can be strengthened, or that intelligence is a fixed commodity?
  • If you personally possess a growth mindset – do your methods, processes, and syllabi send fixed or growth mindset messages?
  • Do your students have the opportunity to master new knowledge and skills with avenues to improve after initial failure, or are single tests and assignments final measurements of their abilities to learn your class material?
  • Do you have processes in place to provide feedback that encourages students who struggle to keep trying?
  • Are you able to offer alternative methods for students to grapple with the material?

The bottom line:
Fostering a growth mindset in students motivates them to put in effort, helps them achieve, and improves equity. This shift in attitude may also reduce the number of excuses related to classroom failures. Approaching teaching from a growth mindset belief is not just good for the students, it is good for all of us!

References:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset the new psychology of success: How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Random House, Inc., New York. ISBN 978-0-345-47232-8
  2. Yeager, D. S., Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic, Review of Educational Research (81:2). DOI 10.3102/0034654311405999

About the author:

Casey PetersonCasey Peterson currently serves at the director of Student Success Programs and is an education doctoral student in institutional analysis. His research and professional interests involve improving student learning, identity development, and equity efforts in higher education. His personal life revolves around enjoying time spent with his wife and two sons.

Twenty plus years in Fargo and at NDSU have taught him that it’s the people here who keep things warm and welcoming!

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