12th July, 2016

What is a Growth Mindset?

By Rachael S

Above: Darcie, a Year Six pupil at Mereworth Community Primary School, outlines the difference between a fixed and growth mindset.

Any teacher or tutor must surely believe that intelligence is something that can be improved over time, otherwise they are probably in the wrong profession - but many children simply do not feel this.

We will not spend time debating the word ‘intelligence’, but hope you can gloss over that to take the point we are making - it is an important one.

Carol Dweck, a renowned Educational Psychologist, compares what she describes as fixed vs growth mindsets. Dweck suggests:

‘In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success - without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have these qualities.’

A fixed mindset demands that pupils continually prove themselves to be smart. Imagine that you have one fixed level of intelligence, and you were given a test. If you do badly, and don’t believe you can change, this is a summation of your intelligence forever. With this mindset, given the choice, would you take an easy paper on which you would do well and can easily prove yourself, or a challenging one, where you will probably fail but will learn more? The answer, for most, will be the easy paper, and understandably so.

Proponents of a growth mindset do not ignore the nature vs. nurture debate and recognise the importance of genes, however, it is widely accepted that the real key is hard work, training and experience. These will ultimately decide how far this natural aptitude takes you. Initial aptitude is merely the starting point for learning, with failure being a ‘springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.’ 

A fixed mindset asks, ‘How good am I?’
A growth mindset asks, ‘How can I get better?’ Teaching a growth mindset is vital.

This is far from simple. We all have a notion of our ‘natural’ intelligence, however, Dweck suggests that students must be taught to recognise their fixed mindset voice. If they can realise the hinderance of telling themselves, ‘This is a risk, you might look stupid,’ or, becoming agitated at receiving negative feedback, they can fight against it.

We have all heard students say, ‘I can’t do it. I’m stupid.’ But what if we could develop resilience in these students to say, ‘I can’t do it now, but, with help and practice, I could in future.’ Well, any failure will be temporary and learning becomes a path to success that just takes time.

For more information on developing a growth mindset visit Dweck's site.

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