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Promoting Growth Mindsets - Recommendations


The overall goal is to create a Growth Mindset supporting climate in your classroom space or other environment in which you interact with students. This includes being explicit, whenever the opportunity arises, to make it clear that YOU believe in their ability to grow their intelligence and to learn by using language that implies future success is more likely with sustained effort, “You may not be able to do this, yet, but you will with time and effort”ecades of research has shown that promoting a belief that one’s intelligence can be further developed through intentional actions is associated with improved academic outcomes (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Paunesku, et al., 2015).  This self-belief is popularly known as a Growth Mindset.  Studies have demonstrated this effect across grade levels, including in higher education.  And while a certain percentage of students (and people generally) have a Growth Mindset already, surveys have also shown that many students have more of a Fixed Mindset, which means they believe that intelligence is more of a trait or talent, and that therefore, it may not be amendable to change, regardless of effort.   The potential harm of a Fixed Mindset is that it tends to diminish effort and persistence in the face of academic challenges, which is not surprising.  Why should someone work harder in the face of failure or difficulty if they believe that such effort won’t make a difference?

And while there are many socio-emotional and psycho-social variables that are associated with academic outcomes, what makes Growth Mindset promotion particularly compelling is that research makes it clear that it can be increased in a durable way and with an investment of time and energy often lower than other pedagogical and curricular interventions (Yeager, et al., 2016; ).  Furthermore, Growth Mindset interventions appear to close equity gaps in student performance due to their differential impacts on under-represented, low income, and first-generation students (Lacosse, et al., 2020).

  1. Emphasizing the process and effort behind an assignment, and not just the final product
    • Use language that emphasis the process and effort behind an assignment, rather than just the product, e.g., “While the completed annotated bibliography is what you’ll turn in, don’t forget that part of what you are learning is how to search for primary sources using these library databases, which is the a very important skill you’ll use in the future”
  2. Making it clear to students that challenges, failure, and difficulty are all part of the learning process, and that the best and most durable kind of learning is always challenging (Wentzel, 2019). You may even want to explain the concept of Desirable Difficulty
    • Desirable Difficulty is a term first coined by Robert Bjork (1994) that captures the research findings that working through difficult assignments and assessments improves learning in and of itself.
  3. If time permits, share some research evidence, videos, articles, etc., that showcase the biology behind a Growth Mindset, such as the brain’s neuroplasticity and how it responds to cognitive challenge. Below are some recommended online resources:

A short program (2 min) on Neuroplasticity from Sentis

A slightly longer (3 min) video from the Khan Academy, “Learnstorm Growth Mindset”

  1. Sharing your own stories of prior struggle. Multiple research studies (Walton & Cohen, 2011; Yeager & Walton, 2011) have shown that professors’ own stories of prior academic struggles and how they overcame them are very motivating to students facing their own present challenges. These stories accomplish three things:
    • They make personal and real the research evidence that you may already be sharing with students
    • They help to break down the kind of “imposter syndrome” that can often arise when students with Fixed Mindsets face challenges. In other words, if someone as academically accomplished as their professor experienced challenges, then challenges are normative and not just evidence that they “don’t have what it takes”, and
    • They can help to make professors more relatable to students, which can provide a foundation on which to build rapport and increase the likelihood that students will reach out when they need help.

Much of the above can be find in the  Growth Mindset and Belonging PowerPoint module and Instructor Guide.

In addition, more information about implementing a Growth Mindset and Belonging intervention can be found at Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS).