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What Is a Growth Mindset?

There are enviable individuals who acquire skills and knowledge effortlessly, others are more orderly and achievement-focused than are their peers, and still others who exhibit unusual talents. While such positive traits are not evenly distributed, they are not necessarily out of reach for those who are not "natural" high achievers. A growth mindset, as conceived by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues, is the belief that a person's capacities and talents can be improved over time.

How the Growth Mindset Works

In studies that examine mindset, participants are given statements such as: “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.” Participants who disagree with such statements are considered to have more of a growth mindset. However, agreeing with such a statement would mean that the participant has more of a fixed mindset.

What is the difference between growth and fixed mindsets?

A growth mindset contrasts with a fixed mindset. The latter is the limiting belief that the capacity to learn and improve cannot be meaningfully developed. The growth mindset, conversely, is open to the effort even if it takes time. Proponents of the theory contend that adopting a growth mindset, and rejecting a fixed mindset, can help people be more open to success.

What are examples of a fixed mindset?

Some people get stuck in thoughts such as I’m not good at anything. I always strike out. Everyone else does better than I do. They are convinced that they can’t learn anything new, and that it’s far too late for them to try because they will fail anyway. They feel they struggle too much in their tasks, and they feel inferior by the seemingly easy success of the people around them.

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Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Andrey Armyagov Shutterstock

Efforts to encourage a growth mindset in students have gained traction in many schools. But does it work? Many studies have aimed to assess whether mindset interventions deliver measurable improvements in student achievement, and the results are mixed: Some researchers report positive results while others find little or no evidence that such interventions make a difference, and critique the earlier studies that established the concept.

Can mindset interventions help students?

It’s possible that growth-mindset interventions boost some students, but not others. In one of the largest experiments, which focused on ninth graders in the U.S., students were given a relatively brief intervention (less than an hour, in total) in which they learned about mindsets and how behaviors such as putting in effort and changing one’s strategy could be helpful. For lower-achieving students, the researchers reported, the intervention was followed by an average gain of 0.10 GPA points.

Can a growth mindset be used in the classroom?

Educators can try these various methods:

• Pose challenges and obstacles as opportunities

• Give constructive criticism and encourage acceptance of criticism

• Encourage persistence

• Encourage failure as a part of the learning process

• Encourage a positive attitude

• Show that having goals and purpose can help

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