Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: Which is Best for Students?

Within the concept of learning, we often encounter two distinct approaches: a fixed mindset, where abilities are seen as static, and a growth mindset, where potential is limitless and ripe for development. The concept of a growth mindset, pioneered by psychologist Carol Dweck, highlights the transformative power of embracing challenges, persevering through obstacles, and viewing failure as a vital stepping stone towards mastery. This mindset is not just theoretical; it manifests in practical, everyday actions and decisions that can significantly influence a student's academic journey and personal growth.

In this article, we’ll discuss a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset and explain how parents can encourage a growth mindset within their children.

The Difference Between Growth and Fixed Mindsets

A growth mindset is characterised by the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and effort. Individuals with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, embrace failure as a part of the learning process, and persist in the face of setbacks. They are more likely to take on new challenges and are open to constructive feedback to improve.

In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence are innate and unchangeable traits. People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges for fear of failure, view setbacks as evidence of their limitations, and may give up easily when faced with difficulties. They often seek validation of their abilities rather than focusing on growth and development.

Growth Mindset Examples

Adopting a growth perspective can reshape the way students approach their education, challenges, and long-term goals. By understanding and recognising these behaviours, parents can foster an environment that nurtures resilience, encourages curiosity, and prepares children for the complex, ever-changing world ahead. 

Here are some examples of a growth mindset. 

  • Embracing challenges: individuals with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to be avoided. For example, a student with a growth mindset might eagerly take on a difficult maths problem, viewing it as a chance to improve their problem-solving skills. They understand that facing challenges can lead to new discoveries and increased competence, fostering resilience and a love for learning.
  • Learning from failure: in a growth mindset, failure is seen as a natural part of the learning process rather than a reflection of one's abilities. For instance, a student who receives a low grade on a test may reflect on their mistakes, seek feedback, and adjust their study strategies accordingly. By viewing failure as a stepping stone to success, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to persevere and ultimately achieve their goals.
  • Seeking feedback: a growth mindset involves actively seeking feedback as a means to improve. Instead of fearing criticism, individuals with a growth mindset value input from others as an opportunity to learn and develop. For example, a student might ask their teacher for feedback on a writing assignment, knowing that constructive criticism will help them refine their skills. By seeking feedback and incorporating it into their efforts, individuals with a growth mindset continuously strive for improvement and excellence.

How do Students with a Growth Mindset See Their Mistakes?

We know that students with a growth mindset perceive their mistakes not as signs of failure but as invaluable feedback in their learning journey. 

But why is this? 

The reason lies in their understanding of the brain as a muscle that gets stronger with use and challenge. They recognise that every mistake is accompanied by neural activity, indicating learning and brain growth. This biological perspective fuels their resilience, enabling them to view mistakes through a lens of curiosity and opportunity for brain development.

Furthermore, students with a growth mindset often engage in what is known as ‘metacognitive strategies’. They reflect on their thought processes, analyse their errors, and plan different approaches for future attempts. This level of self-awareness and strategic planning enriches their learning experience, making the journey towards mastery a puzzle they are eager to solve.

Additionally, the emotional response of students with a growth mindset to mistakes is fundamentally different. They tend to respond with optimism and determination, seeing errors as clear signals on where to focus their efforts next. This positive emotional engagement reduces fear of judgement and increases their persistence, driving a deeper, more effective learning process. Such students thrive on the very act of overcoming difficulties, finding joy and satisfaction in the process of growth itself, which keeps them motivated and engaged in their educational pursuits.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Cultivating a growth mindset is a transformative journey that involves intentional effort and consistent practice. Here are several strategies to foster this empowering mindset.

  • Emphasise effort: encourage children to focus on the process rather than the outcome. Praise their hard work, perseverance, and strategies rather than simply applauding their achievements. By highlighting the connection between effort and success, children learn that dedication and persistence are key ingredients for growth and improvement.
  • Normalise mistakes: create a safe and supportive environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning and growth rather than sources of shame or failure. Model a positive attitude towards mistakes by openly acknowledging your own errors and demonstrating resilience in the face of setbacks.
  • Teach growth mindset concepts: introduce children to the principles of a growth mindset through discussions, stories, and activities. Help them understand that their abilities are not fixed but can be developed through practice, learning, and seeking challenges.
  • Encourage risk-taking: encourage children to step out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges. Emphasise that setbacks and failures are natural parts of the learning process and opportunities to learn and grow. Provide support and encouragement as they navigate unfamiliar territory.
  • Foster a growth-oriented learning environment: create opportunities for children to engage in activities that promote growth mindset principles, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. Provide constructive feedback that focuses on specific strategies and areas for improvement rather than on innate abilities.
  • Set realistic expectations: encourage children to set goals that are challenging yet achievable. Help them break down large goals into smaller, manageable steps and celebrate progress along the way. Encourage resilience in the face of setbacks and emphasise the importance of perseverance.
  • Model a growth mindset: be a role model for a growth mindset by demonstrating a positive attitude towards challenges, setbacks, and learning opportunities. Show enthusiasm for learning, curiosity, and a willingness to embrace new experiences and challenges.

Growth Mindset Activities

To cultivate a growth mindset parents can encourage children to engage in specific activities together. Here are two growth mindset activities that parents can practise with their children.

The Power of ‘Yet’

Introduce children to the concept of ‘yet’ as a powerful tool for cultivating a growth mindset. When faced with a challenge or setback, encourage them to add ‘yet’ to their statements to acknowledge that they haven't mastered a skill or overcome an obstacle YET. 

For example, if a child says, ‘I can't solve this maths problem,’ prompt them to rephrase it as, ‘I can't solve this maths problem yet, but I'm working on it.’ This simple shift in language reinforces the idea that abilities can be developed over time with effort and perseverance.
The ‘Power of Yet’ activity helps children reframe their mindset from one of fixed limitations to one of potential growth. By incorporating the word ‘yet’ into their vocabulary, children learn to view challenges as temporary roadblocks on the path to mastery rather than insurmountable barriers. This activity encourages a positive and optimistic attitude towards learning, fostering resilience and a willingness to persist in the face of difficulties.

The Growth Mindset Journal 

Encourage children to keep a growth mindset journal where they can reflect on their experiences, challenges, and successes. Prompt them to write about times when they faced a challenge, how they approached it, what they learnt from the experience, and how they can apply that knowledge in the future. Encourage them to celebrate their progress and achievements, no matter how small, and to set goals for continued growth and development.
The growth mindset journal provides children with a structured opportunity to engage in self-reflection and metacognitive thinking. By regularly documenting their experiences and insights, children gain a deeper understanding of their own learning process and develop strategies for overcoming obstacles. This activity also promotes a growth-oriented mindset by highlighting the importance of effort, learning from mistakes, and setting goals for improvement.

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Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: Which is Best for Students?

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