Classroom practice - Giving your pupils a mindset growth spurt

Carol Dweck's influential theory is beloved of education experts around the world. But how can you apply it in your classroom?

When I read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, I kept turning the page hoping that she might start to tell me how to "do it" in the classroom. But it didn't happen. Dweck offered some excellently argued theory, but how that translated to teaching was anyone's guess.

In a way, this is liberating. It enables teachers to take the theory and adapt it. But few of us have time for that. What we need are strategies that we can build on. So here are five that I have developed with my primary classes.

Explain `growth' and `fixed' mindsets

Children need to understand what is meant by these terms. The theory is not rocket science, but pupils need to know what it is and how it relates to the classroom. You can explain it however you feel works best: role play can be useful, for example. But a common mistake is for teachers to discuss only the growth mindset. If we want children to really embrace the theory, they need to recognise when they are adopting a fixed mindset, too.

A quick recap on those definitions:

  • Fixed mindset is where students think their skills and intelligence are fixed and the product of talent. They don't try to develop them, as they believe this is not possible.
  • Growth mindset is where students think their skills and intelligence can be developed through hard work. They believe in possibilities and are willing to work to improve.
    • Define the values and reward examples

      Children should consider what values a school needs to have in order to inspire a growth mindset. Values that you should encourage students to aspire to include:

      • Making an effort in learning is important.
      • Making mistakes is helpful and not something to be ashamed of.
      • Feedback, including criticism from others, is important.
        • Make these values visible with posters and ensure that you reward students when they demonstrate them. In my classroom, we applaud mistakes and discuss what we have learned from them. We also award a cuddly brain cell to the child who has shown the best growth mindset behaviours during the week. They take the brain cell home for the weekend, which gets parents involved in this way of learning.

          You should also build recognition for growth mindset behaviours into existing reward systems.

          Use the language of growth

          Now that you have the values, refer to them as often as you can. They need to become part of the fabric of the classroom so that you are not the only one policing the mindsets - the children should be doing it, too. The more you bring mindset theory into what you do, the more quickly your students will adopt it. This will help them to be more independent as they come to understand the values and how they look in practice.

          Don't be afraid to make mistakes

          Develop a shared understanding of what it is to be "stuck". We often assume that children can deal with feeling stuck when it happens, but not all of them can and they will suffer in silence. This can start to turn them off learning and lead them to think about giving up. If children understand that we all get stuck at different times on different things, they will feel less alone and less "stupid". They will be happier about making mistakes and carrying on because they will understand that they must embrace the struggle in order to achieve.

          Prove that you can `grow your brain'

          Teach your pupils about the brain. In my school, we had an information afternoon and made "brain hats". If the seeds of different mindsets come from differing beliefs about the brain, it is important to show children that what you are suggesting about growth is true. Prove it to them with age-appropriate neuroscience.

          Of course, there are many more ways to put this theory into action in your classroom, but this list should provide a platform to launch your ideas from. Dweck has given us a fantastic theory and it is up to us to find the best way of using it.

          Katie Walton is a teacher in Cambridgeshire and the author of The Mindset Melting Pot. Find out more at her website,

          What else?

          Decorate your room with thought-provoking displays on mindsets.

          Get students to reflect on mock exams using this mindset tool.

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