Student mindset: fixed vs growth

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A student’s mindset tells you how they deal with failure and success in a learning environment, and reflects the image they have of their own learning potential. It describes their understanding of what it means to learn, and is therefore a great influence on their motivation and the habits they will develop for further learning.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discerns two main types of student mindset: growth and fixed. Students with a fixed mindset believe that people’s intelligence and abilities are constant, while those with a growth mindset know that these can be changed and improved. When facing difficulties, the former will typically interpret the struggle as a sign of their limited capabilities, while the latter will view failure as a learning opportunity and a stepping-stone to a next attempt.

Helping students develop a growth mindset

  • Set high standards and expectations: Because students tend to rely on their teachers to set certain standards, it is important to make these challenging enough for them to learn and grow. However, these expectations must also be realistic in order to prevent students giving up and developing a fixed mindset. It is therefore vital for teachers to know their students’ abilities and to remind them that durable learning requires some degree of struggle and discomfort. The key is to set high standards while providing adequate support.
  • Establish short-term, achievable goals: Not all students react positively when faced with high standards. Those with a fixed mindset in particular should learn to break down tasks into smaller, more achievable objectives, because regularly completing these goals will gradually reinforce their confidence.
  • Provide meaningful feedback: To help students develop a growth mindset, their teachers must aim to provide continuous and constructive feedback. They are there to help students spot their mistakes, and to provide the necessary guidance for them to fix these problems on their own. Feedback must contain information that can be used for further improvement, not a simple indication that an error was made. Unfortunately, students often receive no more than a grade, which is feedback of a sort, but certainly not constructive. Constructive feedback includes comments for students to know what needs to be done, and letting them do it on their own. Once they have received such information, students must be given time to process it and apply it to their work. If they aren’t granted the opportunity to learn that effort leads to improvement, which is the core belief of a growth mindset, certain students might develop a fixed __ one.
  • Praise carefully: There are three main rules teachers should follow when praising students. First, they should only praise students for effective effort to help them manage their time and motivation efficiently. Effort that does not lead to improvement should not be encouraged. Second, praise must be sincere, and must therefore only be given when it is deserved. Meaningless praise can be counterproductive. Third, it is vital not to praise students for personal traits. For example, calling students “gifted” can discourage them from taking risks, fearing they might fail. Instead, praise should focus on the process of learning itself, pointing out what students did correctly, and recognising their improvements.
  • Use “the power of yet”: During a TED Talk, Carol Dweck explained that use of the words “yet” and “not yet” (as opposed to “yes” or “pass” and “no” or “fail”) gives students greater confidence, because it implies that, through effort, they can acquire the required skill or knowledge. Not yet encourages greater persistence.

Decades of results show the growth mindset to be a powerful factor in enhancing the performance of students of all ages and backgrounds.

Content drawn from “The Science of Learning — What Every Teacher Should Know”, EdX: https://www.edx.org

Gauthier Lebbe

Gauthier Lebbe

Inbound Marketing Manager @ Wooclap, interested in and excited about applying EdTech to the educational needs of today’s students