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Inclusive Teaching

Enhancing Growth Mindset

By Kevin Barry

What is growth mindset?

According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, “Growth Mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.”  In practice it means that a learner with a growth mindset believes that their knowledge, skills, and dispositions can be developed with appropriate effort and support. Alternatively, a learner with a fixed mindset would think that they are either good at something or not. The following descriptions provide some more details that illustrate the difference between fixed and growth mindsets.

Fixed Mindset leads to a desire to look smart/talented and therefore a tendency to 

  • Avoid challenges
  • Get defensive or give up easily in the face of obstacles
  • See effort as fruitless or worse
  • Ignore useful negative feedback (criticism)
  • Feel threatened by the success of others.

As a result they may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

Growth Mindset leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to

  • Embrace challenges
  • Persist in the face of setbacks (obstacles)
  • See effort as the path to mastery
  • Listen to and learn from negative feedback (criticism)
  • Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

As a result they tend to reach ever higher levels of achievement.

Why have a growth mindset?

Enhancing growth mindset will help students see the value in their efforts and help them to persist through struggle. Dweck’s research has shown that the actions of instructors have a meaningful impact on student mindset and that the things we do and say can help students enhance their growth mindset or shift them to a more fixed mindset. It is also important to note that instructors with fixed beliefs about intelligence or ability can activate stereotype threat in underrepresented students and have a negative impact on their performance (Canning et. al., 2019).

How to have a growth mindset in your course:

Here are a few relatively simple strategies that can enhance your students’ growth mindset.

  • Carefully shift your terminology.
    • When students are struggling to demonstrate the desired knowledge, skill, or disposition use the “yet” when providing feedback. 
      • E.g. “I see that you haven’t mastered the ability to explain [topic or skill] yet; here is some feedback that will help you the next time.
  • Praise wisely.
    • Focus on process, strategies, and perseverance when praising success rather than associating it with an innate ability.
  • Explicitly state and share your belief that all of your students have the capacity to learn, improve, and succeed in your classroom.