People with a "fixed mindset" think that intelligence is fixed—that they have a certain amount of it which cannot really be changed. Other people have a growth mindset. They think intelligence is “malleable”—that it can be developed and increased through hard work. Students who have a "growth mindset" tend to do better in school, especially when they encounter academic difficulties.
We know that students who have a growth mindset do better in school. Now what? Cultivating a growth mindset in students is actually quite tricky. Researchers and educators have spent years thinking about this, and we are still learning. Along the way, we have learned some important lessons about what works, and equally important, what does NOT work. Below, we share some of the important lessons we have learned along the way. Learn more about the important nuances of mindset interventions here.
Students can have a negative reaction to being told how to think. Instead of telling students to "have a growth mindset," explain to them the science behind how intelligence works — that the brain can get stronger and smarter with new learning.
Most students have heard "just try harder," but a growth mindset isn't just about trying harder. Students need to understand why they should put in effort and how to deploy that effort. Sometimes a better strategy is more useful than sheer effort.
Many students fear making mistakes. They think mistakes mean they are not smart. But research shows that conceptual mistakes are an important part of learning. Having to work through a difficult problem and try different strategies is the best way to get better at a subject. Tell your students that you like mistakes and show them how to learn from them.
Our intuition is often to praise students for being smart. This sends the wrong message. When students later encounter a setback they conclude: "If my past success made me smart, my current struggle makes me dumb." Instead, praise students when they work hard to accomplish a difficult task. This implies that you value hard work and that hard work is the cause of success. Read the research.
When students are struggling, remind them that challenges are the best way to grow their brains. Help them picture their brains getting stronger as they work through a difficult problem.
Give tasks with multiple steps and multiple right answers. This encourages students to learn concepts instead of memorize lists of facts or rules.
Are students engaged in the learning process?
For example, in group work:
Are students leaning in?
Is everyone participating?
Are students asking each other questions?
The Mindset Meter is still a relatively new product. We would love to hear how to improve it to better serve educators and students. Send questions, suggestions, and requests to us with the form below.