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The key to increasing classroom engagement




The Growth Mindset



According to psychologist Carol Dwek, there are two kinds of opposing mindsets: 1. the growth mindset

  • believes in a capacity for continued growth in intelligence, strength, etc.

2. the fixed mindset

  • thinks talent and our ideas of “who we really are” determine who we will always be.

A student with a fixed mindset is more likely to give up when faced with a challenge they cannot solve right away. A student with a growth mindset, however, is more likely to keep working until they solve difficult problems because they believe that they can expand their capacities to include ones they don’t currently have.

The best part is that the growth mindset can be learned! This mindset is especially helpful for students who are easily frustrated and start to doubt their learning abilities because it helps grow their confidence and encourages them to keep working through struggles. It’s also surprisingly helpful for high-performing students who are often motivated more by the achievement of getting top grades than the process of learning. The growth mindset encourages them to become more curious and to lose their fear of making mistakes.

5 ways to cultivate


Work with the word "yet"

The Power of "Yet"

Working words like "yet" and "almost" can have a positive impact on students' motivation and desire to keep working through hard problems. They tell the brain that though it hasn't found the solution, it can with continued effort.

Praise effort, not intelligence

Make it a lesson

Teach progress over results

Learn from your mistakes

Effort Over Performance

Praise how hard a student tries instead of how smart they appear to be. Most educators know the theory, but it’s easy to slip up. In case you could use some motivation to pay special attention to how you praise, here’s the data to back up why we should be changing “Danny, look at what you did! You’re so smart” to “Danny, I love how you keep trying. It shows, and you’re so close!”

Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck (2007) found that after failing to solve a difficult problem, the kids who received praise for effort solved more problems than those who were praised for their intelligence. Why? Praising intelligence supports a fixed mindset where initial ability beats the ability to grow, so when students can’t solve a problem, they believe they’re just not smart enough (something they think can’t be changed). When praised for effort, students are encouraged to keep trying. The implicit message is “You haven’t done it yet, but if you keep going, you’ll be able to.”

The graph above is from Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck (2007) Child Development.

Teach a Lesson

Have students take a quiz like this one during the first week of school each year as a way of introducing the concept of a fixed vs. growth mindset. There’s no need to have students submit their results. You can just project the questions for everyone to see and give students a few minutes to write down their answers. Then teach them a bit about the fixed vs. growth mindset before going back to their answers to discuss what they might mean as well as steps students can take to work towards a growth mindset in and out of the classroom. If you teach young children. write a simplified version or ask a few question aloud and work through some ideas as a class.

This short video is a great way to get your students thinking about abilities with a growth mindset.

The Power of "Yet"

Words like "yet" and "almost" are subtle signals you can use to teach students a growth mindset. They tell the brain that while it hasn't found the solution it's looking for, it will if it keeps working.

Model Learning From Your Mistakes

Use your own mistakes as opportunities to show students how you keep working to improve as a teacher. Rather than skipping over errors and quickly trying to get on with a lesson, try pausing and pointing your mistake out to the class. Then tell students how you work on something you struggle with to keep improving.

Show older students the data and nuances behind the growth mindset so they can see how it really works. It's not a cure-all but instead a tool and philosophy. Many students who hold ideas of fixed intelligence and other abilities may need some convincing before leaving old patterns behind!

Teach Progress, Not Results

Show your students that you live by what you teach by rewarding progress. At the end of the day, most schools rely on letter or number grades to measure students’ performance, and though this may be changing, we’ll likely be working with these systems for a while. Still, there are things you can do to practice what you preach when it comes to a growth mindset. Create other measures for success in the classroom. Having students write a few reflections at different points in the year on how they’ve improved, what they’ve learned and what they’d like to work on can help teach practices that will serve them in school and beyond. This post from Mercedes' blog Surfing to Success can help with this and also gives practical strategies teachers can show their students.

Carol Dweck's TED talk:

The power of believing you can improve



Animated Summary of Dweck's Book

The Growth Mindset