Knowing that research backs up the idea that what students believe about their potential has a significant impact on their success, how do we use this to increase achievement?
What is a Growth Mindset?
The concept of a growth mindset is one you may be familiar with from the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck (2006). The basic premise is that people approach life with one of two mindsets, fixed or growth. People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is static, while those with a growth mindset believe intelligence can be developed.
Not surprisingly, growth mindset has been a hot topic in recent years in corporate America, among motivational speakers, and self-help gurus. Certainly, those in the business world and anyone looking inward for ways to improve their lives can benefit from this concept, but it is as an educational approach that the growth mindset has real potential for making meaningful change for the better.
Benefits of a Growth Mindset
In the years after publishing her book, Dweck has been collaborating with educational researchers to explore how a growth mindset approach can change education, resulting in a wide variety of discoveries, including how a growth mindset can ameliorate the effects of poverty (Paunesku & Dweck, 2016) and promote resilience and lower aggression and stress in response to victimization (Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Other research has explored the intersection of Game-Based Learning (GBL) and growth mindset in education (O’Rourke, Haimovitz, Ballweber, Dweck, & Popović, 2014), or how the application of growth mindset to the classroom suggests changes to educational policy (Rattan, Savani, Chugh, & Dweck, 2015).
Of more importance to the average STEM educator is the research that indicates students with a growth mindset and who believe that intelligence can be grown and talent developed, showed greater academic achievement than their fixed mindset counterparts (Atwood, 2010; Blazer, 2011, Dweck, 2014)
Growth Mindset in the STEM Classroom
For the teacher who wants to try to implement the growth mindset approach in their classroom, we suggest finding additional resources, such as that provided by Millersville University, or this one, from Dweck herself. For a couple of quick tips, check out what we have provided here.
You shouldn’t expect students to adopt the growth mindset through osmosis by being in your classroom, especially since it runs counter to what they learn nearly everywhere else. If you want students to adopt this mindset, you must create a community of learners of which the growth mindset is explicitly a part. Even if assessments and grades are an unavoidable part of your classroom, you can help students see them not as the final goal, but only as an indication of where they currently are, a reflection of how far they have traveled, and a roadmap to where they are going. Avoid praising students for being “smart” or using other phrases that promote the idea that intelligence is a fixed character trait.
Even Dweck and her proponents acknowledge that not all effort is praiseworthy. Don’t avoid giving students feedback that points out when their efforts are misdirected or nonproductive. Encourage students to reflect on their efforts, determine which ones produce growth and which ones don’t, and direct their work accordingly. You should also avoid promoting the fantasy that any student can achieve any goal. This kind of talk might be great for inspirational posters, but the truth is that we all have limitations. It is possible to encourage students to do their best and to reach for goals they currently feel are beyond their grasp without setting them up for the frustration that results from attempting the impossible.
Probably the most important first step any educator should take if they want to implement the growth mindset approach in their classroom, is to embrace the concept in their own life. Only if you truly believe in your ability to grow your intelligence and talents, can you inspire your students to do so.
To learn more about Growth Mindset and STEM, reach out to STEMscopes to get more information!
Atwood, J. R. (2010). Mindset, Motivation and Metaphor in School and Sport: Bifurcated Beliefs and Behavior in Two Different Achievement Domains. Online Submission.
Blazer, C. (2011). How Students' Beliefs about Their Intelligence Influence Their Academic Performance. Information Capsule. Volume 1012. Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(31), 8664-8668.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random house.
Dweck, C. S. (2014). Mindsets and math/science achievement.
O'Rourke, E., Haimovitz, K., Ballweber, C., Dweck, C., & Popović, Z. (2014, April). Brain points: A growth mindset incentive structure boosts persistence in an educational game. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3339-3348).
Rattan, A., Savani, K., Chugh, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Leveraging mindsets to promote academic achievement: Policy recommendations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(6), 721-726.
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational psychologist, 47(4), 302-314.