The “Growth Mindset” Classroom: What It Is and Isn’t

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January 12, 2017

In the last round of parent-teacher conferences last year, I heard my daughter’s teachers use the term growth mindset. You may have heard your children’s teachers (or your children themselves) talking about this approach as well. But what exactly is a growth mindset? It refers to psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on how people learn. In recent years her findings have been gaining traction in many schools and classrooms.

Dweck’s studies compare fixed versus growth attitudes towards learning. A fixed mindset means that a person views their personality, intelligence, and abilities as fixed: inherited at birth and unchanging. A growth mindset, on the other hand, means that a person considers their intelligence, talents, and personality capable of development and growth.

Research shows that children who approach learning with a growth mindset, or the idea that their abilities can grow and improve with persistence and hard work, achieve much better long term results than those who feel they were born with certain static abilities that aren’t every going to change (a child who declares, “I am not good at math,” for example, reflects a fixed mindset.)  Teachers who understand the difference between fixed and growth mindsets and encourage the latter can have a powerful influence on their students’ attitudes and learning.

What a growth mindset classroom isn’t:

Self-Esteem Camp: The growth mind set approach is not the same as the “We are all fabulous no matter what,” philosophy. While growth mindset teaching will probably increase students’ self esteem, the emphasis is on individual effort and growth, versus making sure everyone feels good.

Fear of Mistakes: According to the growth mindset approach, failure is part of the learning process. In a growth mindset classroom, errors are viewed as opportunities for learning and development, versus failures or setbacks.

Seeking Approval or “Winning”: Kids with a fixed mindset have to continually prove their intelligence. They need to win or gain approval in order to show they are, indeed, “smart.”

Just Talk: Teachers can’t just can’t tell students about fixed versus growth mindset. The idea has to permeate throughout the teaching and working style in the classroom.

A growth mindset classroom includes:

Focus on the Process: Students should be using new methods and working hard to learn or solve problems. When finished, they receive praise for the effort they put in rather than being told that they are smart.

Results: Just because the emphasis is on the process versus the final results doesn’t mean that students never arrive at the right answers. If they get the wrong answer, students should go back, see what could be done differently, and continue to work until they can get there.

Teamwork: Questions and collaboration are seen as helpful in a growth mindset classroom. When no one is worried about credit, everyone’s ideas contribute to the whole and become an opportunity for learning and growth.

Desire to learn: Students who are not focused on being “right,” getting the best grade, or proving themselves through competition tend to have a stronger desire to learn, and to challenge themselves, cooperate with others, and earn from their mistakes.

Dweck’s research has made amazing advances in understanding how to maximize our potential. If your your child’s teachers are using these ideas in their classrooms, let them know you support them. Keep your eyes out for ways to practice growth mindset in your own life, so you can model it for your children. If you want more information about the research and how it applies at home, you can check out Change Your Mind (set): Go Beyond a Smart Kid.

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