Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Effect of a Fixed Mindset in the Classroom

I just received Mindset, written by Carol Dweck, in the mail this week.  I finally began reading it today and have not been able to put it down.  So far, I have been struck by the potential for using the concepts that she outlines in the classroom.  If you are unsure of the premise of this book, Dweck proposes that we primarily are composed of one of two mindsets- either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  As Maria Popova eloquently explains the concept in her blog post "Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives",

           A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.

As I think of the ramifications of this concept in schools, I immediately return to classes of students that I have taught in the past to try to see if I could find examples of these mindsets.  (In my current role as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I do not have a class of my own.) It didn't take me long to find examples of both mindsets in my students, but that isn't what I want to focus on here.  Instead, I would like to review my interactions with students of either mindset.  How did I respond to the students that displayed the fixed mindset?  More importantly, how could I have better supported those students to achieve greater success?  Should I have handled them differently than I did?  I'd like to think, that as a parent, I would prefer for each student to display a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.  Carol Dweck does point out that it is not inherently bad to display one mindset over the other, but I have to wonder if some of my students that displayed tendencies of a fixed mindset would have been more successful if I had the tools at the time to help them develop a growth mindset.  I know I am dealing in hypotheticals here because I am no longer the teacher of these students, but it still makes me wonder. 

As mentioned previously, I am still in the early stages of reading this book, and I am certain that with more reading that some of my questions may be answered.  In the meantime, I'd appreciate any comments from educators that have experience with teaching students about these concepts.  Did it make a difference in your students?  How did you teach the concepts to your students, and of equal importance, how was it received by your students? 


  1. In my experiences, students in primary grades (K-2) are generally curious, passionate risk takers when it comes to learning. They want to experience new things, and failures usually do not bother them. They look at it as a video game challenge: they pick up what they did wrong and “beat” the challenge next time. However, something happens to older students. Somehow kids by 4th grade develop fixed mindset. Sparks for learning disappear and they become more cautious about their success and are not willing to take unnecessary risks. This fact always leaves me wondering about how much of their teachers’ mindset passes on to students. Are we training them to play school safe and pass the test without mistakes? Are we bombarding them with scores that are not high enough for our liking? With that said, I think what we teach and how we teach students in elementary schools determine the mindset of their future. I wonder if the book you are reading makes similar connections.

    1. Alena,
      Having taught both kindergarten and 4th, I have noticed this difference! Prior to beginning this book, I was unaware of the mindset concept, but did notice a lack of 'thirst' in students as they got older. I always attributed it to the general act of schooling as the culprit, but your question makes me curious about the connection between the teacher's mindset and the impact of that on the student. As I continue to read this book, I will look closely for any similar connections.