Five ways to encourage growth mindsets

Rachel Maton

April 9, 2019

Do your students have fixed mindsets or growth mindsets? Encouraging growth mindsets is vital for creating resilient learners and strengthening relationships with learning, success and failure.

What are fixed and growth mindsets?

A learner with a fixed mindset is likely to see intelligence as something that is predetermined and unchangeable. You might hear such learners saying 'I’m rubbish at that' or 'This topic is so hard, I just can’t do it'.

Contrastingly, a learner with a growth mindset will believe their intelligence is changeable, and with effort and practice it can grow and be improved upon. They understand that ability stems from how hard they work rather than a predetermined level of intelligence.

The idea of growth mindsets was developed by psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, who found that students' perception of their own abilities, and whether they could be changed, had a huge effect on their motivation and achievement.

Students with growth mindsets will be more willing to try new tasks and ultimately learn more. They view failure as a sign that they need to work harder, not that they are less intelligent. Contrastingly, students with a fixed mindset have a more fragile idea of intelligence and are less likely to try challenging things that may disprove their apparent intellect.

Encouraging learners

With the inevitable need for assessments, it can be easy for learners to fall into a fixed mindset. Teachers and tutors therefore play an important role in helping learners develop growth mindsets through the way they teach and engage with them.

There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Praise effort not ability – this is the first step to ensuring students understand the importance of the learning process in leading to success
  • Reward actions not traits – avoid telling learners they are gifted or talented, as it doesn’t encourage growth and effort
  • Encourage a changed use of language – rather than saying 'I failed', they should say 'I learned'. Rather than saying 'I don’t understand it' they should say 'I don’t understand it yet'
  • Discuss the learning process with students – help them understand that without trying new and challenging things they cannot learn, and that failure is simply a sign that you can improve
  • Make your criticism positive – if your criticism is constructive and you always provide feedback that includes areas to improve upon, you can help learners view criticism as a good thing rather than a bad thing, as it contributes to an ongoing learning process.

Importantly, teachers and tutors should show that they too have growth mindsets, and demonstrate to students that learning is a life-long process.

For more practical strategies to help develop resilient learners, have a look at our CPD course Building Growth Mindsets, available as part of the CPD Library.

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