Understanding the Growth Mindset

All good teachers are always on the lookout on how they can improve themselves and their methods of teaching.  They ask themselves:    How can I help my students do better?

Consider a growth mindset.   This is the idea that intelligence can be developed and it is considered to be the most popular psychological theory in education at the moment.

“Growth mindset” is based on the conviction that its fundamental qualities are only the starting point of development. You have the ability to learn, cultivate any gift, skill, interest or original disposition you have received.

If you have a “growth mindset”, you have the opinion that you can change and grow through the exercise. Children with a growth mindset go out into the world with the readiness to learn. They can always do better and improve themselves.

The fixed mindset

The fixed mindset is juxta-positioned with the growth mindset.   This is the belief that that with what you are born with are engraved in stone.   You have been dealt certain cards in life and you have to play it out.   Your intelligence is fixed.   What you can achieve is fixed.   There is nothing more that can be done with it.   You can try to improve, but when you have a fixed mindset, you believe that everything is hard work and will only come at a price.

The findings of the research

We all know:  You are what you think you are.   Our mental state and our behaviour are very much influenced by our thoughts and how others enforce this.  We then become what we think about, although it might not be actually true.

Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck from Columbia University, New York, explored the consequences of how different types of praise affected students and wrote up their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1998.

They found:

  • Children that were praised for their intelligence (that is fixed), chose tasks in the future that will make them look more intelligent.
  • Children that were praised because they tried and made an effort, chose new tasks that would even teach them more. These children enjoyed their tasks more and were more likely to persist on tasks.
  • In future tasks, children with a fixed mindset performed worse, whereas children who had been praised for effort performed better.
  • Children with a growth mindset asked for feedback about how they can do better, whereas children with a fixed mindset wanted to know how others did on the same task.

The growth mindset is king! 

This research and subsequent studies discovered a valuable tool:  Children should be taught to adopt a growth mindset.   Nothing is fixed in life and you can always better yourself.   Don’t look at others, but only look at yourself:  how you can develop.

Children should be taught that they are wise, strong and clever and that they can do anything they put their minds to, through effort.   Teachers and parents, who hold onto the idea of growth is paramount, give children a wonderful gift.

What teachers and parents should say to children 

Instead of saying:  “You’re not even trying!  Don’t you pay attention in class?”, rather say “I can see that you are still figuring it out.   Is there something else you can try?”

Give children positive enforcement and steer them into the growth mindset.   “I must still do some thinking.  There are more things I can try.”

Give messages of approval.   Say:”I love seeing you do that.” Let the child find joy in the things he is doing, irrespective of the outcome.   Tell children that they can make mistakes because mistakes are opportunities to learn and to do better next time. Praise their abilities and talents and help them to develop them.

Do not encourage the fixed mindset by praising kids too easily if they only have done the minimum.   Encourage them to do more than what is asked of them – to put in an effort.


In the end, having a growth mindset is about learning and improving.   Teachers should develop a classroom environment of high expectations and quality in their feedback.





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