Wednesday, June 15, 2016

3 Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset In Your Students, and Why It Matters

boy pointing to a light bulb signals a new thought and a growth mindset
 Cultivating a growth mindset in your students will be beneficial to them in their academics and life.
What is a Growth Mindset?

A 'growth mindset' is the term coined by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck.  She believes that our students approach learning in two different ways: with either a 'fixed mindset', or a 'growth mindset'.  Students with a fixed mindset believe they cannot change how smart they are, avoid challenges, give up easily, and are threatened by others' successes.  On the other hand, pupils with a growth mindset desire to learn, accept new challenges, persevere through obstacles, and learn from their mistakes.

Having a growth mindset isn't only about giving more effort. While many teachers have been told to praise a child's efforts, this doesn't necessarily tell or show what the student has learned.   Teachers instead should encourage students to try new strategies and seek advice from peers when they get stuck or face obstacles. In order to improve and learn, students need to use one or more of these approaches.  

How I Can Help My Students 
Develop a Growth Mindset?

1) Pose challenging problems.
Scaffold if necessary, but stop spoon feeding students the answers.  We as teachers will not always be available for students to turn to for answers.  How will our students approach new challenges if they are never given any?

2) Allow for wait time. 
Give ample processing time. Encourage students to justify their answers. Collaborate and discuss if needed.  Ask, "Does someone have a different way to solve this problem? Do you agree or disagree with your classmate's answer? Why?"  Many students are more comfortable discussing content with their peers, rather than having to respond to a teacher.

3) Analyze the process, not the outcome.
Ultimately, the correct answer is preferred; however unique learning will take place when students are left to find answers for themselves.  Often times, they create strategies that work better than tried and true options. Let students know it's okay to make mistakes.  What did your students learn throughout the trials and errors of finding an outcome?  Guaranteed they will remember the information learned through the trial and error process much longer than if they had been given an easier way out.  Dr. Kathy Liu Sun has found that,
"Students are more likely to have a growth mindset in math classrooms where they are encouraged to explain their thinking, take risks, make mistakes, and persevere through challenges. On the other hand, students are more likely to develop a fixed mindset in classrooms where they are praised for speed and accuracy, not asked to explain their thinking or given time to struggle through confusion, and when they are only given one chance to submit work for a grade."
Why Is It Important For Students to Persevere?

1) The brain is malleable. It can grow like any other muscle. The more one uses it and pushes its limits, the more it will grow.

2) When students give up easily, they become discouraged, frustrated, and disengaged. This in turn can lead to behavior problems that occupy the teacher's attention and distract other classmates.

3) Learning new things is exciting!  If you've ever been around a third grade classroom, it is always energizing to introduce students to multiplication.  They are so eager to learn their times tables because it is a faster way to add. My students always felt like 'big kids' when they accomplished this task. How do you feel when you've done something you've never done before?  It feels good, right?

3) To be successful leaders in the future, we will need to encourage our students to take risks, accept challenges, and let them know it is okay to fail. It has been said that the word FAIL= first attempt in learning. When teachers take away the stigma of failure and that mistakes are bad, students feel more aware that the classroom is a safe zone to try new things without backlash.  Through these trials, much learning will occur.

I encourage you to learn more about instilling a growth mindset in your students to help them find positive and productive ways to overcome obstacles in their learning adventures.

If you are looking for growth mindset resources for your classroom, check out these items available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

You can also learn more about Carol Dweck's work by listening to her Ted Talk below or reading her revolutionary book.

**This post contains affiliate links. 


Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'-Education Week.  Retrieved from
Sun, K. L., Boaler, J., Dweck, C. S., Stipek, D. J., & Stanford University. (2015). There's no limit: Mathematics teaching for a growth mindset.

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