The 30-second briefing: What is growth mindset?

In her latest 30-second briefing, Sarah Wright tackles Carol Dweck's theories about growth mindsets

Sarah Wright

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Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset remains hot educational property, but what is it all about?

Dweck, a Stanford University professor of psychology, was interested in finding out how "fixed" intelligence really is. Her substantial research led, in a nutshell, to the idea that people either have a fixed or a growth mindset.

What’s the difference between fixed and growth mindsets?

Those with a fixed mindset see intelligence as being inherent. They are good at some things naturally and see no reason to develop other talents or skills beyond their current abilities.

Those with a growth mindset see intelligence as fluid; something which will increase and flourish through hard work, grit and resilience.

Is this just another misunderstood education buzzword?

The meteoric rise of growth mindset in this country has been helped by direct links to the current character-building push in our curriculum. But this also means that it is a concept which can be dangerously misunderstood. It's important to understand that growth mindset isn’t just about how children see themselves, but about teachers as practitioners, too. 

Dweck picks up on the amount of language we use in the classroom that inadvertently promotes a fixed mindset. For instance, we might tell a child that they are "clever" or "talented", rather than praising the effort and process they show when working towards an outcome.

So, how do I encourage a growth mindset?

This is the difficult part. You are actually introducing your students to neuroscience, to research based on a life-long love of learning from Dweck.

It’s about taking small steps that begin with you as the teacher. Ensure you’re giving opportunities for growth and avoiding the funnel of fixed. Understand the concept yourself so you can confidently approach it with your students. The best way to do this really is to read Dweck’s work.

Are there practical examples I can see of it in use?

The lovely MrsPTeach has some excellent ideas for primary here. John Tomsett also shares some excellent secondary practice.

Are there any drawbacks of teaching a growth mindset?

The difficulty is that you need to think about learners as individuals. The ever-awesome Nancy Gedge makes some excellent points on growth mindset for special educational needs and disablity learners here, with concerns also raised by Professor Robert Plomin in this piece.

Sarah Wright is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University. She tweets as @Sarah__wright1

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