10 Ways Teachers Can Cultivate a Growth Mindset in the Classroom
Having a growth mindset in the classroom is becoming more common in many educational settings. Teaching students how to grasp it and develop it effectively has taken on even more importance. In fact, many schools are now making this their central philosophy.
This strategy focuses on helping students in understanding the values of effort, persistence, and attempting various learning approaches. Doing so allows them to grow their gifts and abilities and has demonstrated to be successful in several research studies.
Here we talk about what a growth mindset is, why it’s important, and 10 strategies for teaching your students a growth mindset in the classroom.
What is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset considers intelligence and talent as qualities that can be improved through time. It is simply the belief that one can develop one's abilities through deliberate effort and activity. When comparing a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, the latter believes that individuals are born with a fixed capacity for intelligence, talents, and other abilities.
Individuals who have a growth mindset understand that obstacles are necessary for learning. In fact, these failures give us the opportunity to work harder to stay motivated and try again. Failures are seen as temporary setbacks rather than the end of the journey. Growth mindsets promote learning, motivation, effectiveness, and resilience because of this.
By promoting a growth mindset in the classroom, students are more likely to put more effort into their studies, embrace change, and use feedback as an opportunity to learn.
Students who have a growth mindset can also exhibit the following behaviors:
- Rather than believing their skills and talents end where they are now, students tell themselves they can improve with patience and practice.
- A student may find a particular subject challenging, but they do not believe that it is impossible to achieve excellence.
- Instead of thinking that they are already the best in a particular subject or topic, students with a growth mindset recognize that there is always room for improvement.
Students with a growth mindset view mistakes differently. They don't view errors as failures but rather as chances to learn about new subjects and ways to get better. In addition, they view mistakes as a crucial first step toward achieving their goals.
Students with a growth mindset are focused on improving their performance. For these kids, failing and making errors are essential parts of moving forward and doing better in their studies.
Why is Growth Mindset Important in the Classroom?
A growth mindset has several proven advantages. Students with a growth mindset have higher levels of psychological well-being and school engagement as well as better resilience [*]. This in turn improves their performance, especially compared to peers with fixed mindsets.
In 2018, the Program for International Student Assessment discovered that children who had a strong growth mindset outperformed pupils who thought their IQ was fixed in reading, arithmetic, and science [*].
It is important to note that while effort is a key component of the growth mindset, it does not encompass everything needed for students to excel. Pupils must also learn strategies that they can rely on when they are stuck while also learning how to seek help from others. This will ultimately lead them to success and a more fulfilling leaning experience.
How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset in the Classroom
The classroom is an excellent environment to help kids develop a growth mindset. Here are some ways that teachers can cultivate a growth mindset in the classroom:
1. Recognize that effort alone is not everything
Teachers need to understand that a gold star shouldn't be awarded for simply trying. Doing this has evolved into a component that Dweck refers to as the "false growth mindset," which supports rewarding students for their efforts even when they haven't learned anything [*]. Instead, teachers can say, "Let's talk about what you've done and what you can try next." This expresses a recognition for outstanding effort while still acknowledging what a student still needs to do.
2. Try not to praise intelligence
Praising intelligence can limit growth. Growth mindset teaching is more about recognizing the value of planning and trying new learning strategies. By praising intelligence, teachers support the notion that students are only as good as their ability at present. Instead, emphasize the benefits of planning and experimenting with various learning strategies in your feedback. This way, students will learn that they can improve their skills and intellect.
3. Focus on the journey and process
Instead of praising a student for a high test score or an article that was well-written, acknowledge the process by which they succeeded. Merely congratulating a student on "being smart" can actually reduce their motivation and promote a fixed and rigid mindset.
4. Teach the value of challenges
Developing a growth mindset in children can be done by teaching them about the benefits of overcoming obstacles.
It's incredibly helpful to know how the brain responds when someone pushes themselves to take on more challenging experiences. As the connections between the neurons become stronger over time, intelligence increases. So instead of being hindrances to learning, effort and difficulty are actually steps in the right direction.
It may help to remember a growth mindset quote to drive the point home. As Joshua J. Marine said, “Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
5. Normalize struggle
Learning is a difficult process, and struggling while studying is normal. To have a growth mindset in education, reinforcing and normalizing the idea of struggle as part of the process will help students feel more motivated. They may also react more positively when they are challenged.
6. Give good and useful feedback
Providing feedback that focuses on a student’s process rather than their outcomes can help foster a growth mindset. Good and useful feedback should be educative in nature, given in a timely manner, sensitive to the individual needs of the student, and provides a model or an example for the student to follow. It should also allow the student to know what they can or cannot do, how their work stands among their peers, and what they can do better.
7. Ask students to explain their answers in more depth
When teachers ask students to elaborate during class discussions, it becomes easier for students to notice what they do grasp and what they don't comprehend. This can motivate them to think more deeply about the material. This shows us a key component of the growth mindset: competence may be acquired rather than simply being inborn.
Teachers can conduct problem-based learning exercises or question-and-answer sessions to provide students the chance to express and elaborate on their ideas.
8. Give students space for goal-based journaling
Journaling is not only a meditative tool but also one that can be used for learning. This activity can encourage students to build a growth mindset by teaching them how to set goals. Such goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based (SMART). Students can also write down the steps they are going to take to progress toward their goals.
9. Emphasize the word “yet” in everybody’s vocabulary
If a student says “I’m not a math person,” add this simple qualifier to encourage them: “yet.” They may not be the math whiz they wish to be now, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to get better at the subject!
10. Use growth mindset language
By changing the way you phrase things, you can encourage students to do the same. Shift your vocabulary from growth averse to a more development-oriented one. Students with fixed mindsets see low performance as a criticism of their skills. Instead, you can encourage children to see difficulty as an opportunity to gain more knowledge and skills to become better.
Final Thoughts on Growth Mindset in the Classroom
Instilling a growth mindset in the classroom allows students to start and continue on the path of lifelong learning. It gives them the tools to respond to a changing world with resilience and creativity. By setting goals, experimenting with new approaches, understanding areas for growth, and even getting a little bit of inspiration from tools like growth mindset posters, students can excel and grow up to be successful individuals.
- Zeng G, Hou H, Peng K. Effect of Growth Mindset on School Engagement and Psychological Well-Being of Chinese Primary and Middle School Students: The Mediating Role of Resilience. 29 Novembe 2016.
- OECD. Sky’s the Limit: Growth Mindset, Students, and Schools in PISA. 2021.
- Dweck C. The Choice to Make a Difference. 18 January 2019.