- A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and skill can be developed through hard work|A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence and skill are stagnant|The benefits of a growth mindset include a lifelong love of learning, improved career success and personal evolution outside the classroom|The dangers of a fixed mindset include feelings of insecurity, a laser-focus on perfection and feelings of stagnation
Bailey Hull is a writer at Cengage. She’s passionate about equitable education, cozy soups and improv comedy.
When it comes to fostering eager learners in your classroom, encouraging a growth mindset while avoiding a fixed mindset is half the battle.
The idea of growth vs. fixed mindsets was first coined by Stanford Professor Dr. Carol Dweck over 30 years ago. By her definition, a “growth mindset” is a core belief in one’s own abilities, and the idea that intelligence can be developed over time through hard work and trial and error. Its opposite is a “fixed mindset,” which is the concept that intelligence is innate and cannot be developed.
In order to foster effective and engaged learners, instructors should seek ways to encourage growth mindsets in the classroom. Here are three ways that a growth mindset in students can help them thrive, and three ways a fixed mindset can be detrimental.
Growth Mindset Characteristics
A growth mindset is characterized by the following attributes:
- Learning from failure
- Excited by challenges
- Belief in self
The Benefits of a Growth Mindset
1. A Lifelong Love of Learning
Growth mindsets make students more open to new information, and by that extent, more open to learning in the future. When a student feels like they can achieve anything through hard work, they’ll be more receptive to digging into their course material.
In this study, students who were praised for their hard work rather than knowledge were more receptive to trying a set of problems again, ultimately learning how to do them correctly. Students respond well to the acknowledgement of their effort and are eager to learn more in and outside of the classroom.
2. Improved Career Success
According to a 2017 report by McKinsey & Company, “up to 375 million workers worldwide will need to change roles or learn new skills by 2030” (Forbes). In order for students to find success in the future, students can’t go into a career with a stagnant mindset. They need to be adaptable, willing to learn and ready to take on any challenge.
Even in the immediate future, there are serious perks to a growth mindset in the workplace. In fact, according to a study from Robert Half, “84 percent of companies are willing to hire and train a candidate who lacks required skills.” From a hiring perspective, the ability to learn and be trained on new tasks is highly desirable for students’ prospective employers.
3. Evolution Outside the Classroom
A growth mindset doesn’t disappear after students close their laptops. Constant growth and trial and error are a part of being a well-rounded person outside of the classroom. When students know how to learn from that trial and error in their personal lives, they grow as individuals.
When a person has a high drive for personal growth, per this study, they have “a feeling of continued development… [see] improvement in self and behavior over time [and are] changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.” A growth mindset can lead to improvement in relationships, less aversion to risk, new opportunities and new ways to develop.
Fixed Mindset Characteristics
A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset, characterized by the following attributes:
- Believes talent and intelligence are innate
- Threatened by others’ success
- Sees feedback as an attack
- Defensive of flaws
The Dangers of a Fixed Mindset
Feelings of Insecurity
It’s natural for failure to make students feel vulnerable. However, when this vulnerability leads to embarrassment, it can create a barrier to personal growth. Because embarrassment and unhappiness can have a huge influence on self-esteem, “failure and rejection can deliver a double whammy to your confidence” according to Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.
In this instance, a fixed mindset creates a self-perpetuating cycle: A student fails, loses confidence, doesn’t feel like they can succeed, doesn’t try and then fails again. Only by breaking this cycle of insecurity can students escape this mindset.
Laser-Focus on Perfection
Fun fact: Perfectionism has no bearing on how well a student performs, according to a 2018 Harvard Business Review study. In fact, perfectionism actually “has an overarching detrimental effect for employees and organizations.”
Why? Because when students fear failure more then they care about learning, they miss out on the lessons that failure can teach. Plus, a hyper-focus on perfectionism can lead to severe burnout and anxiety.
Because students with a fixed mindset feel as though talent is innate, they can feel a sense of stagnation, believing that they cannot make progress beyond their “natural” abilities. This stagnation can also be the root cause of procrastination and feelings of unfulfilled potential for many students.
Now that you know the pros of a growth mindset and the cons of a fixed mindset, you can foster positive growth in your own students.
For more information on building constructive growth mindsets in your classroom, view our infographic comparing typical responses associated with growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.