Growth mindsets are not a panacea. Dweck’s research simply offers us a powerful lens through which to look at student thinking and learning, and to then try to effect change. The tenets of growth mindset thinking – seeing effort as a path to mastery, learning from mistakes, embracing challenge, using feedback, thinking about one’s own thinking – chime with much of what we would see as good classroom practice. Taking a growth mindset approach when teaching often means giving these things a bigger role, at the same time as we draw students’ attention to how they are thinking about themselves and, where appropriate, offer them an alternative story to tell.
As with any popular classroom approach, myths have developed. Here are five of the most common, along with a rebuttal.
- Myth: Growth Mindsets just means saying ‘yet’. Using ‘yet’, as in: ‘you can’t do it yet…’ is one technique among many. It does not constitute change on its own, but is a useful starting point for altering the language of your classroom.
- Myth: Growth Mindsets implies that everyone can be super successful at anything. This is not the case. Growth mindsets makes a much weaker claim, but one which is far easier to defend. It suggests that all students can learn, therefore changing their intelligence, talent and ability and that this is more likely to occur if students begins from a premise that their talent, ability and intelligence is open to change.
- Myth: Growth Mindsets just means praising effort regardless. This is not true. Instead, growth mindsets means promoting the idea that effort is a path to mastery. However, we are talking about targeted effort. That is, effort which has purpose and direction. Praising effort regardless is something differently entirely.
- Myth: Growth Mindsets ignores biological factors. Growth mindsets focuses on cognition – the thinking students do. It does not examine biological influences because it comes from the cognitive school of psychology. However, this does not mean it denies the influence of biological factors.
- Myth: Growth Mindsets means labelling students as having a fixed or growth mindset. The central premise of growth mindsets is that we are all open to change. Therefore, labelling is not to be welcomed as it presupposes a fixed state over which the individual has no control. Students have mindsets, these are open to change. The likelihood is that they will have different mindsets in different areas of their life, leading to a mixture of fixed and growth. A teacher’s goal is to promote growth mindsets and the tenets which constitute this so as to help all students gain a sense of agency over their learning.