Growth Mindset Talk

In Carol Dweck’s powerful book, “Mindsets” The New Psychology of Success” she taught us about the two different mindsets that students and teachers can develop – fixed versus growth.  

From her research, we know that learners who develop growth mindsets are better equipped for successful, fulfilling lives, but what can we do to nurture this mindset in our students? It all starts with our talk.

Consider this example from Carol Dweck’s work with students (Dweck, 2008):

We praised some of the students for their ability. They were told: "Wow, you got [say] eight right. That's a really good score. You must be smart at this." …

We praised other students for their effort: "Wow, you got (say) eight right. That's a really good score. You must have worked really hard." They were not made to feel that they had some special gift; they were praised for doing what it takes to succeed.

Both groups were exactly equal to begin with. But right after the praise, they began to differ. As we feared, the ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn't want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent. …

In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from. ...The effort kids simply thought the difficulty meant, "Apply more effort." They didn't see it as a failure, and they didn't think it reflected on their intellect. ... The effort praised students still loved the problems, and many of them said that the hard problems were the most fun.

We then looked at the students' performance. After the experience with difficulty, the performance of the ability-praised students plummeted, even when we gave them some more of the easier problems. Losing faith in their ability, they were doing worse than when they started. The effort kids showed better and better performance. They had used the hard problems to sharpen their skills, so that when they returned to the easier ones, they were way ahead. Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students' IQs. And that praising their effort raised them. (Dweck 72-73)

This example shows the dramatic effect our words can have on our students’ mindsets. If we monitor the way we speak and the type of praise that we give, we can help our students to build self-efficacy and nurture their growth mindsets. The key to effective praise is to praise for specific effort. When coaches praise athletes, they say things like, “Wow, the additional training you’ve been doing paid off. You shaved seconds off your time.” This type of praise allows the athlete to know specifically what to keep doing in the future. We also need to be specific, so students know what they did that helped them improve. Statements such as, “I noticed you have been asking more questions in class. Your effort really paid off on the quiz this week. Well Done!” help students know what to keep doing, what’s working for them. Also, we want to use talk that builds an internal locus of control, such as, “You must be proud of yourself," rather than “I am so proud of you.” This shift in talk allows students to own the choices they have made.

For some teachers, this type of talk comes naturally, but most of us will have to work at it. Just as we note with our students that change that come with effort, we also need to keep up the effort with ourselves as we learn to talk in mindset ways.

Be patient, but keep pushing forward. And at Infinite Horizons, we can offer more help! Check out the following links on our website to discover more tools for helping you talk the talk that builds growth mindsets for you and your students. 

Mindset Resources

Suggestions & examples for: Teacher to Student,
Student to Self and  
Student to Student talk.

Mindset Books