In 2006, Carol Dweck published her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explaining that individuals approach aspects of life with either a growth or fixed mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” and “everyone can change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck 2006, p. 7). Someone with a fixed mindset believes “qualities are carved in stone” which “creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over” (Dweck 2006, p. 6). Dweck’s research on mindset has been covered in mainstream media a lot over the last few years, especially in terms on how we might praise others, including the students we teach, how we approach obstacles, failure, effort, the success of others, and the benefits having a growth leaning mindset might afford us.
The good news, according to Dweck, is that we can change our mindset over time by thinking about it as a muscle that can grow. Also, Dweck suggests that a person’s mindset is neither one nor the other, but a combination of the two that appear in different contexts. For example, we may take a growth approach to athletic skills, but be more fixed in terms of artistic ability. Or in a relationship we might see a partners traits and behaviors as fixed verses something that can evolve over time.
Mindset beliefs also extend to the classroom. Cultivating a growth mindset with our students is possible and can have tangible effects on their thinking, efforts, and grades. Dweck found that after students attended an eight-session workshop on growth mindset, individuals who previously struggled in math were now doing better than their peers who did not attend the workshop. Dweck says the “one adjustment of students’ beliefs seemed to unleash their brain power and inspire them to work and achieve” (2006, p. 221). It is not possible to add eight weeks to our course to discuss mindset, but here are a few strategies on how we might infuse growth mindset into a course.
1) Reframing language.
How often have you heard your students stay “I will never get this” or “I am just not a math person?” In Dweck’s TED Talk (2014), which has 5,000,000+ views, her concept of “The Power of Yet” explains how reframing our language can help students develop a growth mindset. Instead of thinking (or saying) “I can’t do this” try reframing it as “I can’t do this yet.” Helping students reframe their language can eventually lead to new patterns in thinking.
2) Encouraging deliberate experimentation.
“People’s ideas about risk and effort grow out of their more basic mindset” (Dweck 2006, p. 10). Many individuals with a fixed mindset avoid taking risks because if they try something new and “fail,” it may indicate a direct reflection on their level of intelligence and how smart they are. Creating an environment that supports experimentation in a course can provide students with a fixed mindset with a safe space to try new things and take risks. Deliberate experimentation, with preparation, planning, and positive thinking, is actually an “offensive” approach to failure (Cannon and Edmondson 2005). It allows students to accept that failure is often an element of growth.
3) Modeling a growth mindset.
Modeling growth mindset behaviors can help students see that this way of thinking is possible. You, as the instructor, can share with your students how you have taken risks in the past and how those risks have paid off or how you turned them into a learning experience. Also, you might take risks in your own class, like facilitating a new teaching strategy, and talk to your students about the outcomes. Additionally, you might model growth mindset is by infusing narratives in your teaching about how you overcame obstacles learning the same content that the students are learning.
Taking a growth mindset approach to our work as instructors and in our interactions with students shows that we are still committed to learning too. Viewing our courses as opportunities to grow can help us stay fresh and energized.
What ways have you seen your students display a growth (or fixed) mindset in class? Have you found any strategies that encourage students to approach their learning with a growth mindset?
Cannon, M.D. and Edmondson, A.C. (2005). Failing to learn and learning to fail (intelligently): How great organization put failure to work to innovate and improve. Long Range Planning Journal, 38, 299-319.
Dweck, D. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Dweck, D. (2014). Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve. TED Talk. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve#t-17258
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