Developing a Growth Mindset

Found in: SCEA News | Published on: 01 August 2016

Better Education Conference Workshop Led by James Nottingham (Challenging Learning UK)

Summary by Jordan Smith

Through the use of personal stories, James demonstrated what can be achieved through the change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (based on the work of Carol Dweck). James outlined that fixed and growth mindsets can be inter-changeable depending on context. It was noted that a change of language used and the way we interact with children is extremely powerful in establishing a change in mindset from fixed to growth.

People in a fixed mindset believe talents and abilities are set and cannot change.

Students in this frame of mind may use language such as “I am good at math, but not good at music.” They may outline that they can’t do something. They often avoid challenges and are not willing to go away from what they know.

Students in a growth mindset will use language such as “I cannot do that task yet” and “I am working towards being able to achieve my goal” or “I haven’t developed my ability in this area yet.” These children often seek challenges and push themselves.

Moving away from the use of multiple intelligences towards categories helps students and staff move away from having a fixed mindset. There is no evidence of multiple intelligences working successfully in the classroom. Teachers only need to know about learning styles, so they avoid the trap of teaching in the one style that works best for them. In short James outlined that giving student’s labels can limit learning due to its boundaries and often lack of expectations.

James’ comments around language use were again very important. As teachers, the language we use can be powerfully positive or powerfully negative. For example “Intelligence praise” disempowers students, so avoid comments like “you’re a smart boy”. "Process praise” puts the students in control of their learning and is empowering for students. So praising effort and what the student has achieved during the learning process is vital.

Interestingly, studies have shown boys get eight times more criticism than girls (Dweck, 2010). This criticism is often stated as an if/then statement. For example “if you put in more effort and stopped being lazy then you will be able to improve your result.” If/then statements pass boys the control of their effort. Girls often get hooked on praise, “well done”; “Excellent result” as such they are less likely to take control of their learning and are not being given the constructive criticism needed to improve.  James Nottingham argues both boys and girls need to get the powerful if/then messages. They need process messages, which allow them to take control of their learning and move towards a growth mindset. 

Access James' slides from this presentation, and more of James' content from the Better Education Conference, at the Challenging Learning website.