The Concept of Growth Mindset in Pedagogy

An aspect of my teaching that I am interested in making more effective is developing a Growth Mindset in my own teaching identity and in the classroom environment. The purpose of growth mindset essay is to reveal this concept through different perspectives. 

I am deeply interested in the theory behind the term “Growth Mindset”. The concept of a growth mindset was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and centres on the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. The type of mindset individuals adopt can have profound implications for how they conceive their learning and personal characteristics. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities and talents are fixed and remain unchanging throughout their life. Conversely, individuals with a growth mindset believe that their abilities are malleable and can be improved through effort and learning. Individuals with fixed mindsets believe that intelligence is dependent on innate ability rather than effort, viewing failure as evidence of their own unchanging lack of ability and consequently disengage from tasks when they make a mistake or face difficulty, whereas students with a growth mindset tend to understand that intelligence and academic skills are changeable and that success relies on the amount of effort used. Growth-minded individuals view failures as potential chances for instructive interpretation and are therefore more likely to learn from their mistakes. How students perceive intelligence can significantly impact the way they approach their learning, particularly when it comes to coping with adversity. This is of critical importance because the greatest opportunities for learning and progression customarily involve some degree of challenge and failure. Dweck states that motivation has a huge factor within growth mindset and by taking more responsibility in their learning, children can become motivated and think positively. Further research by Dweck has demonstrated that growth mindset can be taught to individuals through intentionally praising a child’s effort, process and perseverance instead of ascribing learning achievement to innate qualities and talents. Through using process praise it is possible to encourage children to persist despite failure by encouraging them to think about learning and the process of learning in an alternative way, helping them to cultivate a growth mindset which can lead to increased motivation and continued learning and growth. 

The power of our mindset is something that has been researched and developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and amongst many other academics for the last decade and beyond. During my PGA, I became conscious that I that the formation and development of a growth mindset in the primary education setting was one which resounded with me. The impact and unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic was in no doubt a pertinent factor in this pivotal moment in my teaching career. The pandemic has provided challenges within the education sector which will be unparalleled most likely for years to come and I wondered how something that seems as 'basic' as differing mindsets could affect this.

The growth mindset standpoint is that in order to be a great teacher, there must be a deeply rooted passion in the process of learning and a belief in the growth of intellect and talent. During PGA “in a global pandemic, where the only thing guaranteed was change and the concept of structure something rapidly diminishing”. I could see a growing proportion of children and teaching staff were experiencing spikes in anxiety and deteriorating mental health, which highlighted to me the importance of employing what I will refer to in this paper as a “growth mindset pedagogy”. Previous studies revealed how teachers with a growth mindset rely strongly on process-focused pedagogical thinking. This means they regard emotional processes, learning strategies, and contextual factors as the main indicators of students' behaviour, learning, and achievements and try to influence these factors instead of seeking explanations in fixed abilities.

It became apparent to me that a fundamental part of this ideology was that the teachers' instruction within a learning setting shapes students' beliefs and subsequently, students' academic performance. With regard to mindsets, I noticed how undisputable it was that the teachers’ instructional practices were often seemingly reinforcing either growth mindset or its opponent, a fixed mindset. According to Rissanen et al. the core principles of 'growth mindset pedagogy' are:

  • Recognise and overcome individual barriers to learning.
  • Promote mastery goals (avoid comparisons of students' performance).
  • Be persistent; and praise favourable strategies and effort.


It soon became evident in my own teaching journey, that the Teachers' Standards that I was working towards, were “felt” very much mirrored in this pedagogy, as so:

  • Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils
  • Promote good progress and outcomes
  • Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils 


During these sessions, I came to realise that my passion for teaching stemmed from the desire for students to work for the sake of learning and not for the attainment of a specific grade. Mastery goals focus students' attention on achievement based on intrapersonal standards of learning; performance goals focus on achievement based on normative or comparative standards of performing. In partnership with growth mindset, this can be thought of as as being learning-oriented as opposed to grade-oriented.

Rissanen et al, discusses how process-focused pedagogy implies promoting a mastery orientation in the classroom, where progress and learning goals are emphasized and performance or achievements are not deemed as relevant. This means, for instance, that the emphasis is strongly on formative instead of summative assessment. My school context largely adopted this. Being a Rights Respecting school with a fully thematic approach to curriculum, the school enthuses children to consistently reflect on and analyse their own learning processes. This model of reflection, as used by many educationalists and recognised often through Kolb's learning styles and experiential learning cycle is one which I found worked well, have striven to adopt in development of my own teacher identity and sits alongside growth mindset pedagogy.

The pertinent issue that arose was: how do teachers successfully introduce, develop and maintain this growth mindset pedagogy within their own teacher identity, whilst simultaneously upholding the direction, policies and general ethos of the school? I found that teachers often do not know how to implement this theory into their teaching and learning practices within their settings when no doubt often faced with children, parents and other teachers who had a more fixed mindset. Dweck maintains that an individual gravitates to either end of the dyad of mindset - a fixed or growth mindset. Those holding a fixed view create distinctive frameworks for responding to academic tasks in the form of cognition, affect and behaviours. Children on both ends of the dyad were apparent in my own year 3 class, however, the teacher 'and the school as a whole, in theory' fostered a growth mindset.

I began to explore the role of teachers. Dweck, amongst other scholars, claims that a teacher's own mindset belief and practice is vital to supporting students to consider their own mindsets and to develop thinking strategies to support their learning. Hattie analysed this idea of visible learning. By conducting a meta-analysis he found that using a variety of classroom level practices has a strong effect on student learning, for example teacher' student relationships and type of feedback. Hattie argues that when teaching and learning are visible and metacognition is explicit there is a greater likelihood of students reaching a higher level of achievement. To support this, teachers must see learning through the eyes of their students, supporting and scaffolding them to become their own teachers. It is proposed that it is the teachers' beliefs that have the greatest influence on their students' achievements and may be able to exert the most influence. Therefore, differing mindsets, or assumptions, that teachers possess about themselves and their students play a significant role in determining their expectations, teaching practices, and how students perceive their own mindset.

One example which I reflect on now is when in discussion this with another student in my CLG group. His placement experience wasn't proving positive. We had an in-depth conversation about the concept that fixed mindset was something that could really prevent children from fulfilling their full potential, especially during this turbulent time. He believed that his schools' context contrasted to mine and one of the key factors in this difference was the fact that my school adopted and promoted a growth mindset pedagogical approach and his did not. We discussed the idea that this could be the underlying factor which provided the school with its core structure, morals and definition. Moreover, that it could be the identifying factor in the general morale and quality of relationships between everyone within the school. Our discussions brought us to the ideology that a growth mindset was no doubt established in children using the role of teachers. However, teachers were not the sole constructors of this mindset within primary school aged children, and it was clear it was not an ideology that was adopted overly seriously within the education sector.

A study of mindset by Nestor, with 43 teachers of students aged 5-10 years, explored how teachers perceive mindset informing instruction, and examined the nature of teachers' professional development related to mindset. The survey was designed to collect data using multiple-choice and open-ended items. The results indicated that all teachers believed children can and should have a growth mindset and fostering a growth mindset is part of a teacher's duties and responsibilities. However, less than half of the participants (33 per cent) strongly agreed that they were good at fostering a growth mindset. The findings suggested that teachers desire more effective training and professional development to alleviate some of the perceived challenges faced when implementing growth mindset into their teaching practices.

The next part of this paper will focus more directly on how teachers can begin to foster and develop this within their practice. I will work this around the three of the teaching standards as referred to before, as they reflect the three main characteristics of growth mindset pedagogy.

The fifth teaching standard states we “as teachers” should adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils, within this to: demonstrate the awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils' education at different stages of development. This relates directly to the first factor of growth mindset pedagogy. In recognising and overcoming individual barriers to learning we must recognise and become inspired and driven by the concept of an individual cocktail of psychological processes, contextual factors, and learning strategies that influences a child's learning process and may create barriers to motivation and learning. It's through this that I'll reflect back to the ideologies of reflection as discussed by Kolb in his reflective learning cycles model. Kolb's learning cycle is based on John Dewey's claim that learning must be grounded in experience, Kurt Lewin's ideas of the importance of active learning, and Jean Piaget's emphasis on the interaction between person and environment on intelligence. This can all be taken into account when thinking about growth mindset pedagogy. For example, students who repeatedly fail to achieve become fearful of new challenges and devastated by setbacks. Those who are able to reflect and assess their own learning using methods such as that provided by Kolb are more likely to become resilient adults with a flexible approach to life's challenges. The cycle could be seen as such: The concrete experience of playing with friends, or general interaction with other humans, particularly peers. Reflective observation is when the child uses this experience to connect to something else in their awareness. Abstract conceptualisation could be the child using it to provide an example for the next time they come upon a similar situation; or use it to plan for such. Active experimentation is when they then use this whole experience to create and build on, and in turn develop as a person through the process of learning. This cycle of reflection would surely fit well with a growth mindset. But how would someone with a fixed mindset relate to this? This led me to think about our analysing of reflection versus routine action, White summarizes Dewey's point effectively: “Genuine ignorance is profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, can't terms, familiar propositions, gives conceit of learning and coats the mind with a varnish waterproof to new ideas”. From this, I looked further at some criticisms of reflective practice. Vince, stated three main criticisms of reflective practice. The first is too much focus on the individual in replace of social andor political context of experiences. Secondly, the neglect of emotions involved in learning and change. Thirdly, neglect of power and the relationships of power.

Students with a fixed mindset characteristically ignore constructive feedback and feel threatened by the success of their peers. They may blame outside factors for their failure. For instance, if they failed a test, fixed mindset students might blame teachers by suggesting it was not taught to them or they were not directed to study that area specifically. As a result, students with a fixed mindset tended to believe that their failure was not due to their lack of skill or determination, but rather the result of other people's actions.

The second teaching standard is to promote good progress and outcomes by pupils. Within this, to be aware of pupils' capabilities and their prior knowledge, and plan teaching to build on these. This once again has strong links to reflexivity, but it also directly relates to the concept within growth mindset pedagogy to promote mastery goals. Mastery learning refers to a shift in responsibilities, so that a student's success or failure is more reliant on the instruction and not necessarily a student's ability. Mastery learning proposes that all children can learn when provided with the appropriate learning conditions in the classroom. By letting go of the concept that every student is on the same time schedule, it requires more differentiated learning, giving students more time to go over the learning material, giving them extra explanation and support where needed. Dweck talks a lot about what she calls mastery-oriented thinking with regard to reflection, perseverance and resilience. She claims that for children who have a fixed mindset work is viewed as a way of validating their ability. Failure represents the limits of their ability. On the contrary, individuals with a growth mindset are likely to embrace and seek challenges in learning. They will persevere when faced with challenges or adversity and hold higher levels of intrinsic motivation. A mastery-oriented response to learning is therefore something those with a growth mindset are more likely to have and they will attribute failure to lack of effort rather than lack of ability. Bloom, who wrote in depth about mastery learning, states that his own thinking in the matter was influenced by Carroll's model of School Learning. Carroll synthesized much of the research on learning theory into his model of school learning. According to this model, there are five elements that contribute to the effectiveness of instruction: Aptitude refers to the students' general abilities to learn; Ability to understand instruction refers to the students' knowledge of prerequisite skills and information needed to understand a unit of instruction; Perseverance refers to the amount of time students are willing to spend actively participating in the learning process; Opportunity refers to the amount of time available for learning; Quality of instruction refers to the effectiveness with which the unit of instruction is actually delivered.

Bloom puts forward that one of the benefits of this approach to teaching and learning is the extent to which students develop cooperation in their learning as contrasted with competition. Since the criteria for mastery can be set in absolute terms and since the proportion of students attaining mastery is determined by achievement rather than a fixed quota, students quickly recognize that they are no longer competing with each other for scarce rewards. Having students work together to help each other over specific elements of learning identified by formative assessment, students come to see other students as a source of instructional help over specific learning difficulties. Under such conditions there appears to be a remarkable flowering of student cooperation in learning.

Alongside reflexivity and promoting this mastery-oriented learning, as teachers we must also ensure persistence and praise for favourable strategies and effort in order to develop and maintain a growth mindset culture in primary settings. This relates to Teaching Standard 1 which states we must set goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions. We can look at this in relation to the pupils' self-efficacy. Bandura described self-efficacy as a belief in one's own ability to be successful in particular circumstances. Within a primary classroom, self-efficacy is built upon past successes of the child, especially ones that challenged them and were overcome with their own abundant effort. Otherwise, failures easily shatter a child's sense of self-efficacy, especially if they achieved accomplishments effortlessly. If children with a growth mindset observed other children succeeding at a task, they perceived that they had the potential to be successful. When children with a fixed mindset observed others failing at a task or if they were given negative verbal feedback about their ability to achieve, these children put forth less effort or would not attempt the task at hand. Self-efficacy is therefore strongly linked to motivation, therefore, feedback children receive from teachers should focus on the process and the effort put into a task.

Consequently, and to conclude, professional development for teachers may support methods to phrase questions and give constructive feedback that alters classroom language to be more consistent with a growth mindset model. In addition, teachers should expect students to play an active role in establishing growth mindset attitudes within the classroom by providing opportunities to discuss and share the process and the difficulties they encounter in learning. This, for me, was interesting as I could relate to it with regard to my school experience: I had seen teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, and have no doubt the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.

Taking into account the mirrored nature of the growth mindset pedagogy aligned with the teaching standards, it becomes clear that the two are almost inter-relatable. A master-oriented approach “in my opinion” gives teachers and children the opportunity to flourish as individuals. However, this may depend largely on the standpoint of the school with regard to policies, assessment procedures and general ethos. Reflexivity, differentiation and cooperation (with regard to all school relationships) are the most key identifying factors as outlined in this paper. It is through using these methods that I strive to develop myself as a teacher by adopting a growth mindset within my own teacher identity and classroom.

05 January 2023
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