Growth Mindset

Definitions and Implications  

“Mindsets are the implicit theories that individuals hold about the malleability of human characteristics. Research indicates that students’ beliefs about the nature of intelligence and ability significantly shape their response to academic challenges (Dweck, 2006; Yeager & Dweck, 2012).” Growth Mindset  

 “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and put more energy into learning.” What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means  

“People with fixed mindsets believe that their talents, abilities, and qualities are carved in stone, whereas people with growth mindsets believe that their basic qualities such as talents and intelligence can be cultivated through their efforts (Dweck, 2006). Those with fixed mindsets avoid challenges, give up when obstacles get in their way, ignore criticism, and find the success of others threatening. Those with growth mindsets embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, learn from criticism, and are inspired by the success of others.”  Growth Mindset  

According to the MIT Growth Mindset site, students who believe that intelligence and ability are largely immutable (fixed mindset) respond to failure by withdrawing, disengaging, or persisting with the same set of strategies despite their prior demonstrated ineffectiveness. They select performance goals, safer learning experiences that help them validate their intelligence, and avoid exposing deficiencies to others.  

Students who believe they can increase their intelligence and ability through experience and effort (growth mindset) often react to academic challenges by allocating more effort, experimenting with new approaches, and seeking feedback. Thy set mastery goals and undertake increasingly challenging tasks that promote skill development and acquisition. 

The University of Notre Dame Inclusive Learning site describes how a fixed-mindset approach can hinder individuals when confronted with serious setbacks. Fixed-mindset thinking can result in students (a) feeling inadequate and unable to succeed, (b) dropping out of a course, major, or educational experience, (c) abandoning developing skills that could be beneficial for academic growth, (d) underutilizing available resources that could help them overcome the challenging experience, (e) failing to seek feedback from peers and mentors and/or discarding helpful, constructive feedback; and (f) experiencing increased anxiety and depression.  Enhancing Growth Mindset  

Practices That Support Development of Growth Mindset 

An instructor’s teaching practices can influence students’ mindset; therefore, it is important to use practices that encourage a growth mindset. 

  1. Normalize the experience of mistakes and failure. Use personal examples and examples from others that describe overcoming failures. Share your own struggles with challenging material and show that expertise comes through practice. 
  2. Praise student effort and use of study strategies, rather than intelligence. Provide feedback that normalizes mistakes and teaches students to correct them. 
  3. Model growth mindset. Admit when you don’t know or understand something. Be open to feedback from your students and be transparent in your efforts to improve 
  4. Teach students that feedback is an important part of the learning process. Communicate that your feedback reflects your high standards and confidence that students can meet them. Explicitly state your belief that all your students have the capacity to learn, improve, and succeed in your classroom.  
  5. Challenge the notion that learning should feel easy. Teach students to reframe their response when learning feels difficult, encouraging them to respond to challenges with greater effort rather than with avoidance or withdrawal.  
  6. Communicate that abilities can grow over time (e.g., neuroplasticity). Emphasize the usefulness of identifying weaknesses and working on them (i.e., deliberate practice). Advocate for seeing failure a learning opportunity. 
  7. Assign work that allows for growth/improvement (e.g., multiple drafts of papers, opportunities to respond to feedback). Give students an opportunity to practice skills through low stakes assignments and quizzes. 
  8. Set achievable micro-goals to encourage students’ consistent, incremental progress. When students are struggling to demonstrate the desired knowledge or skill, use the “yet” when providing feedback.  
  9. Help students focus on and value the process of learning rather than on focusing on self-perceived intelligence and grades as the basis for their self-worth. 
  10. Design classroom activities that involve cooperative–rather than competitive or individualistic—work. These activities increase students’ motivation and, as a result success, which will help them develop a growth mindset. 

Thus, by describing the process to increase competence for a particular skill and by providing examples and strategies for developing these skills, an instructor can help students understand that abilities and intelligence are not fixed and that struggling and making mistakes are part of the natural process of learning. 

The MIT Growth Mindset site offers several cautions. Instructor should not focus on mindset at the expense of teaching students specific strategies to improve performance and learn from feedback. Additionally, it is important to remember that “Mindsets occur in a continuum between the fixed and growth extremes and are domain specific. … Even within a certain domain, an individual might initially approach a particular challenge by exerting effort and seeking help—demonstrating a growth mindset, but may subsequently perceive setbacks as a diagnosis of low inherent ability—demonstrating a fixed mindset.” Growth Mindset 


Dweck, C., Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2016 What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means  

Dweck, C. TEDx Talk, November 2014 The power of believing that you can improve  

MIT Teaching & Learning Lab Growth Mindset  

Finley, K., EdSurge, October 24, 2014. 4 Ways to Encourage a Growth Mindset in the Classroom  

Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning Growth Mindset  

Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation Promote a Growth Mindset 

 University of Notre Dame Inclusive Learning Enhancing Growth Mindset  

Oregon State University Learning Corner Growth Mindset