5 Tips to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

Thursday, September 15, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

The concept of a growth mindset, pioneered by Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has made quite a rumble in the education industry.

Simply put, Dweck’s theory states that our mindsets are beliefs about our most basic qualities and how we perceive our abilities. When it comes to learning, a mindset can be classified as a fixed mindset or growth mindset. An individual with a fixed mindset believes intelligence is something innate—an aspect of every person’s nature at birth that cannot be altered or changed. An individual with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that intelligence is more like a muscle—something which can be developed, trained, and strengthened over time.

Research has shown that a fixed mindset, as opposed to a growth mindset, has major impacts on student learning. Individuals who believe their ability to learn is innate may avoid asking questions or seeking help, may be less motivated to put effort into schoolwork, and may not reach their full potential because they believe they are already there. In contrast, those who subscribe to a growth mindset generally perform better both academically and socially, embrace challenges, and achieve higher rates of overall success.

It’s easy to see that a growth mindset is what should be fostered in students in order for them to succeed, but it’s just as important that educators are subscribing to the belief as well. Here are a few simple ways that you can make sure that you are fostering a growth mindset in your classroom and giving your students a better shot at success.

1. Buy in wholeheartedly

The first key to establishing a growth mindset in your classroom is believing in it yourself. Take time to reflect on your own personal attitudes about learning; you may find that you yourself have taken on some bad habits of a fixed mindset. What you may not realize is that this kind of attitude could not only be harmful to your own personal success but to your students’ as well. Giving in to the idea that students “just aren’t going to get it” when they have trouble with a concept deprives them of valuable learning opportunities.

2. Encourage hard work, not cleverness

Who doesn’t remember that feeling of pride as a child when someone told you that you were smart? It’s a great feeling—and one every student deserves to experience. But, while it’s important to be complimentary to students, applauding them for cleverness alone may be harmful in the long run. Instead of telling your students they are smart when they accomplish something, compliment their level of effort. Although a growth mindset does recognize that not all students will have the same abilities across all subjects, recognizing their level of effort rather than their inherent abilities helps encourage a sense of accomplishment in students as opposed to pride. In turn, they’ll be more motivated to continue improving.

3. Recognize the opportunity in failure

Sometimes, for any number of reasons, students fail. It’s an unavoidable part of learning (and life) and a frustrating one at that. But, handled in the right way, failure holds a lot of opportunity. When students are unsuccessful in a particular lesson or skill, remind them they are not “failing”—they just haven’t succeeded yet. Telling students they have “failed” can easily put them into a fixed mindset and eventually breed the belief that there is no point in putting forth any effort in the future. Helping your students understand that, with persistence, the obstacles they face can be overcome is a key way of developing a growth mindset.

4. Step out of your comfort zone

Of course, we want to teach our students good study skills, but there’s so much more we should be doing. As education becomes more and more innovative, it’s important for educators to demonstrate the power of some wisely calculated risk-taking by stepping out of their own comfort zones in the classroom. It’s perfectly fine to try something new with your class that doesn’t work out, as long as you communicate to your students your purpose in doing so. Your students look up to you, and by setting this example, you’re showing them how to practice a growth mindset.

5. Don’t forget about formative assessment

Formative assessment is a strategy perfectly designed to foster a growth mindset in your classroom. Formative assessment activities are designed to be quick, low-pressure checks for understanding. Not only do they help you keep tabs on students’ progress and make adjustments, but they’ll also encourage students to be upfront about what they’re struggling with and ask for help when it’s needed. Exit tickets, journaling, and other creative formative assessment tactics are great ways to build a feedback loop in your classroom that fosters continuous improvement.

Interested in learning more about how your school can partner with Edmentum for online solutions for growth-minded classrooms? Check out this short video to learn about how formative assessment is making a difference in classrooms across the United States!