Over thirty years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck began studying students’ attitudes about failure. Her research led her to coin the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe the way people view intelligence and their ability to learn. More specifically, she studied the way the brain worked and how neuron connectivity can change with experience. Her discoveries backed the idea that the brain can learn new ways to process information. Couple that with a changed belief structure (believing your brain can grow) and really impossible results become possible.
In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
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. –Dr. Carol Dweck, 2012.
The key to a growth mindset is perspective.
Both students and teachers need to believe that someone can grow and change even when they do not currently show signs of ability to do so. Discouragement does more to stop progress in a classroom than anything else does. It is the teacher’s job to encourage and motivate his/her students to see their own worth and put in the effort to live up to their potential.
Growth mindset starts with teaching cognitive learning theory.
Research shows that educational goals are reached when both students and teachers are knowledgeable about how the brain works and learns new material. Teachers should discuss successful learning practices with their students before they cover the necessary material of their course; taking the time to do so will enable those students to actually retain the information they are about to receive. USA Today did a great article on how the brain works for students about to enter college. This article can be a tool for training and discussion in the classroom. Teachers can also read more about growth mindset and download the lesson plan used by Dr. Dweck’s team to teach it here.
Growth mindset is a journey not a destination.
Changing the way you think about yourself is not something that is going to happen overnight. We cannot always have a growth mindset because discouragement is going to happen. That is just a part of life. However, we can recognize fixed mindset elements in ourselves and get feedback and strategies for improvement. The Mindset Works website has a quick interactive quiz for this. In a few short questions, you can gauge where you are and get feedback on how to improve. Check it out here.