Fostering a growth mindset – why it matters and how to do it

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through hard work and learning from experiences. Individuals with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks. They view effort as a path to improvement.

It was developed by psychologist Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford University professor. She introduced this idea through her extensive research on achievement and success, exploring the differences between a fixed mindset (believing that abilities are fixed traits) and a growth mindset (believing that abilities can be developed through effort and learning).

Dweck has shown that students with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges and put in effort to overcome difficulties – instead of giving up when they reach a difficulty. We’ve all heard and even said “I can’t do this!” But why do some learners keep going whilst others abandon the task?

Dweck showed that the difference is made by mindset. People with growth mindsets demonstrates higher levels of persistence in the face of setbacks compared to students with fixed mindsets. It’s not done at a conscious level. However, without us knowing, our mindset makes a huge impact on our lives.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their natural intelligence or ability is the reason they can do (or not do) tasks. Those with a growth mindset believe inherently that they’ll get there if they keep going. They also often have improved emotional well-being and respond more positively to set backs.

HOW can We Help?

e.g. It was great to see how interested you all were in these objects.

e.g. I could see you working really hard to find things out – I saw you reading the information, that was great!

e.g. That’s such a good question, I can see you’re trying to make sense of this. Well done for asking such thoughtful questions. Has anyone else got any questions?

e.g. I can see how hard you’ve tried today. I was so impressed that you kept going.

Praise the effort, not the ability, of the learners

Try to avoid saying things that suggest success is due to innate talent or cleverness, e.g. avoid saying ‘What a clever answer’ or ‘You’re a bright bunch’. If young people produce good work, praise the effort taken to make it, not the work itself.

You can also ask open questions and emphasise, as appropriate, situations when there are not necessarily right or wrong answers, but that the importance should be placed on thinking things out. You can plan activities that support a growth mindset by including elements that must be ‘worked out’, or can be achieved by different members of a team finding out different information.

Highlighting their ability to learn from mistakes, collaborate with others, and connect information, can also foster a positive growth mindset. At the end of a school visit, for example, you could consider working with the teachers to select children to reward for collaboration or perseverance (for example with a certificate or small prize).