What’s the Real Growth Mindset in Education

I have been following the work of Carol Dweck since I first read about her on New Scientist way back in 2008. A lot has happened since then, and we have learned a lot more about the Growth Mindset so I felt it was about time for a re-cap. Part of reviewing material after a period of time has elapsed is the way we make new connections with old information which help to enhance our understanding of the topic and to further hardwire it onto our brains.

And besides, just because an idea is introduced to us, and we agree with it, doesn’t mean we wholeheartedly embrace it into our lifestyles. We might accept the idea and implement it in one aspect of our lives but not in another. For example, I have always approached rock climbing with a growth mindset approach – I accepted that if I was ever going to be good at it, I really had to train hard, and I did. Unfortunately, I did not do the same with being a parent – it has taken me a long time to realise that I have been approaching parenting with a fixed mindset. Although I have known about the growth mindset for years, I am only now trying to apply it to how I parent my children.

Growth Mindset

Image Source: Az quotes

Introducing Mindset into Education

As I’ve said before – I’ve known about the growth mindset for years but that didn’t mean that I knew how to teach it to my children effectively. Even if I did somehow manage to communicate that message to my children, they also needed to hear the same message from their teachers for reinforcement. I couldn’t be sure that that was happening for the longest time until our school started talking to the parents about Mindsets. Then I started seeing pictures of the brain in the classrooms and /my boys started talking about what they were learning about the growth mindset. I knew then that the school was really taking it seriously.

Overview of the Growth Mindset

  • Students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—plays a key role in their motivation and achievement.
  • If we change students’ mindsets, we can boost their achievement.
  • Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).
  • Students learning through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, do better.
  • Getting children to focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) can foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

Studies show students with a growth mindset:

  • Are more motivated and engaged, even when work is challenging
  • Are more likely to review or revise their work
  • Score better on math and verbal standardized tests
  • Fail fewer classes and have higher GPAs
  • Are more likely to persist in high school and college
Growth Mindset

Image Source: Dr Cheri Toledo

See also: The Growth Mindset Experiment

Correcting Misconceptions about the Growth Mindset

I found these insights particularly valuable because I’ve also misconstrued what the growth mindset was really about when I first heard about it. For instance, I used to think it was just about the effort, but it’s not. I used to think it was just a matter of switching over from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, but it isn’t. So what is the growth mindset really about? Here it is in a nutshell:

  • While effort is key to the growth mindset, it isn’t the only thing.
  • Having a growth mindset also means being able to try new strategies and getting help from others when you’re stuck.
  • While we want to praise students for putting in effort, it is important not to lose sight of the real goal – learning and improving.
  • Helping students develop a growth mindset means helping them figure out where they are at and how to work towards becoming smarter.
  • Developing a growth mindset is a journey – it isn’t simply a matter of having it or not having it.
  • Acknowledging that we are and always will be a mix of fixed and growth mindsets will help us ensure we don’t fall into the trap of developing the “false growth mindset”.

Bottom line: The growth mindset is about acknowledging our short-comings and constantly striving to become better at whatever it is we are working on. It is important to remember that everyone needs to work on developing their growth mindset and no one is immune to fixed mindset thinking. We should always be watching for signs of our fixed mindset reactions in the way we face challenges:

  • Are you overly anxious?
  • Do you feel like backing away?
  • How are you reacting?
  • Do you feel incompetent or defeated?
  • Are you looking for excuses?
  • When receiving feedback, are you defensive, angry, or crushed? Or are you interested in learning from it?
  • When you see someone who is better than you, are you envious or threatened? Or are you eager to learn?

Building a growth mindset means we are on a continuous process of self-improvement.

Teaching Children about Their Brains and the Growth Mindset

To date, I’ve come across three programs that teach children about their brains and the growth mindset:

Growth Mindset

One of the topics they cover is brain anatomy – the different parts of the brain and their general function.

We can also help teach children about the growth mindset with videos like the Growth Mindset Animation:

More Mindset Tools

Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve

Past articles on Mindsets and Carol Dweck’s work:

Mindset Experiences

Mindset Resources: