Growth Mindset



One of the key concepts that is explored at ASPS as part of Positive Education is the importance of developing a Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck (Mindset, 2006) suggests that people (children and adults) can be categorised into 2 groups:

  • Those predominantly with a with a Fixed Mindset
  • Those predominantly with a Growth Mindset

Fixed Vs Growth Mindset 

With a fixed mindset, Dweck explains that, “You believe your talents and abilities are set in stone. You must prove yourself over and over, trying to look smart and talented at all costs.

Whereas those with a growth mindset “Know that talents can be developed and that great abilities are built over time. You believe that your qualities can be cultivated through your efforts.” (Dweck, 2006)

There is a common misbelief that the IQ test was developed to measure fixed or unchangeable intelligence. In fact, Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ Test, “Designed the test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track.” (Dweck, 2006)

Today, there is a general consensus from experts that there is a constant interplay between your genetic predisposition and environmental influences. “Gilbert Gotlieb, an eminent neuroscientist, put it, not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.” (Dweck, 2006)

Proponents of Growth Mindset theory do not blindly believe that any person can become anything that they set their mind to. What they do believe is that a person’s true potential is unknown and that there’s no way of knowing what hard work, passion, dedication or learning will yield in terms of an end result or product.

Growth Mindset: Feedback and Praise 

In last week’s newsletter, I introduced our community to John Hattie’s research which represents the largest collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning. Hattie’s research highlighted feedback as being one of the most significant positive influences on student learning outcomes.

Carol Dweck further reinforces the importance of quality feedback and identified that the type of feedback or praise that we give our students can greatly impact learning outcomes and attitudes to more challenging tasks or learning scenarios.

In Mueller and Dweck’s research (2002), subjects (in 2 separate groups) were given 1 of 2 types of praise or feedback following the completion of a task. The fixed mindset feedback group received praise that focused on ability, “Wow, you got eight right, that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”

Whereas the growth mindset feedback group received praise that focused on effort, ‘Wow, you got eight right, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.”

What Mueller and Dweck found was that the group that received the ability praise rejected opportunities to try more challenging tasks and ‘didn’t want to do anything that would expose their flaws and call into question their talent’.

On the other hand, 90% of the group that received the effort praise ‘wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from’.

Overall, Mueller and Dweck found that students receiving ability praise were:

  • More likely to give up after a failure
  • More likely to perform poorly after a failure
  • More likely to misrepresent how well they did on a task
  • More likely to view their failures on a task as evidence of low intelligence

Teachers and Parents: Praise that Works 

When praising or giving feedback to your child we encourage all teachers and parents to use process praise. This will assist students in developing a growth mindset and forming a healthy connection between effort and achievement.

Examples of Process Feedback and Praise (Growth Mindset): 

  • You worked really hard to achieve this great result.
  • I can see that you’ve put in a great deal of effort with this task.
  • I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that Maths problem until you finally got it.
  • I liked the effort you put in but let’s figure out what it is that you don’t understand.
  • Everyone learns differently. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.
  • Too easy? Apologies for wasting your time! Let’s do something that you can really learn from.

“Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough.”

(Sir Alex Furguson) 

To find out more about the power and importance of developing a growth mindset, please feel encouraged to explore the following clips and print resources:

Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck, 2006

The brain that changes itself, Norman Doidge, 2008

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel Pink, 2009

Bounce – How champions are made, Matthew Syed

The power of belief: Mindset and Success (Ted Talk)