Mindset Matters

September 23, 2016

By Lynn Bartels

What are Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets?

Have you ever been frustrated by a student who told you I'm just not good at that?" For example, students may say "I'm not a math person." This kind of thinking about one's abilities is called a fixed mindset and it can cripple the learning process (Dweck, 2006). With a fixed mindset, students believe that performance is determined mainly by innate and unchangeable characteristics. Students with a fixed mindset set performance goals for themselves. They want to prove to others they are smart or good at the topic. They view negative feedback as a sign that they haven't got what it takes and they are less likely to persist when meeting challenges.

On the other hand, students with a growth mindset set learning goals for themselves striving to improve their skills. With a growth mindset, students believe that ability is changeable through effort." Students with a growth mindset have a learning orientation and see feedback as important in the learning process.   Many benefits have been linked to a growth mindset.  Students with a growth mindset are more engaged and interested in learning.  They are likely to earn higher grades and they are less likely to drop out (Delaney, 2016).

How Can I Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset?

With all of the benefits associated with a growth mindset, you might be wondering how to foster a growth mindset in your students.  Saundra McGuire (2015) has a few strategies to share.  Her strategies are based on getting students to focus on effort and not ability.

She suggests asking students to share stories of overcoming challenges and how they were able to accomplish something they didn't think they could. It may be helpful for students to hear about your struggles too.  In the Theater Delta performance last week, this is one of the strategies used by the faculty member advising her graduate student that the student appreciated.

McGuire also suggests giving students assignments that are manageable and gradually increase in difficulty. She warns against overwhelming students with difficult tasks. Winkelmes' efforts to provide more transparency in assignments reflect this approach.  The focus is on clarifying the purpose, tasks and criteria of an assignment. When students know why and how to do an assignment as well as how it will be evaluated, success rates increase, particularly for at-risk students.

McGuire's book has many stories about students who were struggling with really low grades and doubting their capabilities. Her interventions which include developing a growth mindset along with effective study strategies has led to remarkable academic transformations.  Growth mindset may help students believe that it's worth it to invest the effort. 


Delaney, S. (2016).  How Can I Encourage a Growth Mindset with Three Simple Tips? Midweek Mentor Video, Magna Publications.

Dweck, C. S. (2006).  Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success. New York:  Random House.

McGuire, S. Y. & McGuire, S. (2015).  Teach Students How to Learn:  Strategies you can Incorporate into any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study skills and Motivation.  Sterling, VA:  Stylus.

Winkelmes, M. (2014). Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project.  http://www.unlv.edu/provost/transparency

Categories: All Categories, Teaching, Students