Growth Mindset - What is it, and Why is it important?
As educators, we are constantly advocating for the idea of lifelong learning, not just for our students, but also in terms of our own professional development.
Every now and then some significant new research or theory comes to light that causes us to pause for thought. These new ideas can encourage us to take another look at how we approach our own work in the classroom.
In recent years the concept of Growth Mindset has gained lots of traction in educational circles. It has become something of a buzzword, but unlike much of the jargon we hear in our profession, there is much of value in this recently-coined concept to benefit both ourselves and our students.
But, before we take a look at how to practically apply the concept of a growth mindset for the benefit of ourselves and our students in the classroom, let’s take a brief look at just what the term refers to and why it has become so important.
The origins of the term Growth Mindset can be found in the work of Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research is largely concerned with personality and development and many of her ideas were comprehensively outlined and popularized in her 2007 book Mindset.
According to Dweck, mindset refers to the way students perceive their own abilities. She argues that these perceptions fall somewhere between two poles: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
Fixed Mindset Definition:
Fixed mindset refers to a mindset where a student believes their skills, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. This attitude is essentially fatalistic and can often result in a student resisting learning or other attempts to improve upon their skills, intelligence, or talents.
Growth Mindset Definition:
Growth mindset, on the other hand, is apparent where a student believes that their skills and talents can be improved upon by hard work and perseverance. This mindset results in a receptive attitude towards both learning and critical feedback. Students possessed of a growth mindset are also generally more open to trying new things.
Growth Mindset for Kids
From our definitions of the two contrasting mindsets above, it is clear why encouraging a growth mindset in the classroom could lead to greater engagement by kids and help them to secure greater success in their work and development in general.
In her book, Dweck argues convincingly that having a growth mindset helps kids to develop the necessary self-motivation required to set them up for continued learning and progress throughout their life.
Growth Mindset Quotes
Growth mindset is about how we look at the world and how we view our place in it. It is best understood as an attitude displayed by action. One good way to understand it is to learn from the attitudes of those who have gone before us and displayed a growth mindset in their own approach to life.
Let’s take a look at some quotes that encapsulate the growth mindset at its finest. This will help us get a real feel for exactly what it is we mean by the term.
Growth Mindset Activities: 6 Activities to Foster the Growth Mindset in Your Students
Now we understand the Growth Mindset attitude, we need to think of how we can best help our students take the necessary actions to develop it and to understand how to act from it in practical ways.
1. Mindset Definitions: Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset
For students to successfully develop a growth mindset they will first need to become clearly aware of how these mindsets are defined.
This will not only involve sharing definitions of these terms with your students, but also require them to effectively identify the thoughts and behaviors that best display these mindsets.
To do this effectively, you can start with a discussion of these terms and what they mean to the students. Discuss how a fixed mindset can prevent learning and limit achievement, and how a growth mindset can help students to have a much more positive learning experience.
Then, when students have the confidence that they understand the meanings of both of these terms, they can be divided into groups. Assign each group one of these terms to explore. In their groups, students discuss their term and compile a list of actions and behaviors that display that mindset.
Fixed Mindset Examples
For example, a group working on fixed mindset may record things like:
● Gives up easily
● Sees mistakes as bad things
● Avoids difficult tasks and challenges
● Ignores feedback and criticism
Growth Mindset Examples
A group working on growth mindset may write down behaviors such as:
● Doesn’t give up easily
● Sees mistakes as opportunities for learning
● Embraces difficult tasks and challenges
● Considers feedback and criticism carefully
You could also challenge the students to come up with concrete examples of each of these behaviors from their own lives. Students can then feedback their answers as a whole group and reflect on what their mindset is currently.
2. Change My Mindset!
In the beginning of this article we talked of the two opposing mindsets as being two points on opposite poles. However, most of us exist somewhere along the spectrum between a fixed and growth mindset.
In our first activity, we encouraged our students to reflect on where they exist on this spectrum. In our second activity we endeavor to help move them further along this spectrum towards the growth mindset pole.
To do this successfully, students must not only identify their fixed-mindset self-talk, but learn to replace it with suitable growth-mindset self-talk. To do this, challenge your students to write some examples of their fixed-mindset self-talk down and then write a growth-mindset version to replace it with.
3. Growth Mindset Bulletin Board
Another great way to help you train your students to build resilience, by replacing their fixed-mindset self-talk with positive growth-mindset self-talk, is through the use of a Growth Mindset Bulletin Board in the classroom.
To start building your Growth Mindset Bulletin Board, first, print off a number of statements displaying either a fixed or growth mindset. You can choose one of these per day to discuss as a class. After discussion, decide whether or not the statement displays a growth or fixed mindset. Then stick the statement in the appropriate column on your bulletin board marked Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset.
Another way to increase the power of this visual display of statements is to print the fixed mindset statements in black and white and the growth mindset statements in vibrant colors.
4. Exit Your Comfort Zone to Overcome Obstacles
For students to shift from the resignation of a fixed mindset to a more empowering growth mindset, they must learn to appreciate the positive effect pushing beyond perceived limitations can have on the brain.
Students should be encouraged to see obstacles not as barriers to shy away from, but as tools that help us to develop our intelligence and problem-solving abilities, much like the way in which resistance training helps athletes build their muscles and strength.
Attitude is key to the development of a growth mindset. In studies undertaken by Dweck and her colleagues, results showed that students in a control group who displayed a growth mindset secured significant increases in their math scores, while those displaying a fixed mindset saw a decrease in their scores.
These findings suggest that whether a student believes they can or can’t, they are likely to be correct!
Simply understanding the benefits of having a growth mindset can have a profound positive effect on students. Students can deepen their understanding further, and work towards attaining these positive benefits for themselves, by thinking about times in their lives when they wanted to quit, but didn’t. They could then consider how this helped them improve and develop as a result of the experience. You may want to start the ball rolling with a personal example from your own life.
5. Gamify the Learning Process
Anyone who has children of their own, or works with young people, will be well aware of the powerfully seductive nature of video games. There is no doubt that video games assert an almost overwhelming pull on many of our young people. However, we can use this knowledge for positive ends within the classroom too.
Gamification refers to using certain elements of video games within your classroom activities. By using certain aspects of gamification, you can encourage students to continue to persevere at tasks they would normally find overwhelmingly difficult and subsequently quit. Adding these elements of gamification can help students stay engaged, avoid quitting, while also encouraging overall student progress.
For example, you could easily adapt how you present grades and scores to the class by mimicking the format of many video game scores. For instance, a score of 75% could be conveyed as experience points (XP) marking their progression towards completion of a task or towards achieving mastery of a given skill.
You may also award further XP points for the completion of homework and assignments, their participation in class discussions, and other demonstrations of learning and effort.
The beauty of gamifying learning in this manner is that rather than a student focusing on how they failed to reach 100% following the traditional grading model, in this method students tend to focus on what they can do to increase their XP points and therefore their own learning. Gamification encourages students to focus on steadily making progress - which is the real essence of what the growth mindset is all about.
6. Climb Down the Ladder of Abstraction
Gamification works well because it makes things quantifiable to some degree. It gives clear, numerical feedback to the student that helps them to get some indication of their own progress. However, this isn’t always as clear-cut when we are dealing with more abstract concepts and skills.
Helping students climb down the ladder of abstraction to stand on more concrete ground will also help to instil in them the growth mindset when dealing with more theoretical topics.
To help students to recognize the real world applications of a concept, you must first help them to improve their overall knowledge of that concept. To encourage their further exploration, ask them the following three questions:
● Why is this concept significant?
● What are its uses outside of the classroom?
● How does this concept affect people’s lives?
These questions, coupled with class discussions and the sharing of ideas, will help students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts in question, while also helping them to grasp their practical applications more firmly.
Now, Go and Grow...
Now you have 6 activities you can use immediately to help you teach the growth mindset in your classroom.
It should be clear by now, too, that much of what is meant by the term refers to the student’s attitude to their work, as well as their self-perception. Be sure to take the ample opportunities that present themselves throughout the day to reinforce this generally positive approach to not only learning, but life itself.