This article is part of a series aimed at sharing insights from learning sciences research with educators. (Read the first two blogs in this series here and here.) Now that learning is happening at home with support from family and friends—and, of course, teachers—it’s important to address the contextual nature of growth mindset. After all, parents bring their own mindsets to learning experiences, including “ghosts” of classrooms past. And while the idea of a growth vs. fixed mindset may be familiar to educators, it is likely foreign to parents. This article can help educators incorporate information about growth mindset into their communications with caregivers who are supporting students’ learning at home.
I remember first hearing the term growth mindset when I was a preschool teacher. I was relatively new to working with young children and reveled in the idea that my words could impact my students’ beliefs about their own intelligence. My mother’s words—that my sister was “smart” and that I “worked hard”—confused me. After all, my sister worked hard too, and wasn’t I smart? The dichotomous nature of growth mindset has become a bit of a myth. It’s not that we either have a fixed or growth mindset as a long-term condition, but that context plays a part in whether we feel powerless, or empowered, to grow and learn.
In her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explains that mindsets shape an individual’s interpretations of events. Some learners assume they are either inherently “smart,” or not. Understanding the differences between growth and fixed mindsets and how to nurture them can help educators have a greater impact on student outcomes. Over the past 14 years, schools have been taking Dweck’s work and applying it in programs, interventions, and professional learning. What do we now know about how a fixed or growth mindset impacts learning? Here are key findings:
- Students experiencing a growth mindset seek out opportunities to learn, develop effective learning strategies, and assess their own weaknesses to work on them
- Growth mindsets are context-specific and don’t always transfer to different domains
- Interventions should be targeted towards lower-performing students for best results; some students who are academically high-performing have positive fixed views of their intelligence
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