The Growth Mindset: How effort can overcome natural ability

The growth mindset is an increasingly popular topic in educational circles and is revolutionising the way that many schools, colleges and universities approach learning and development. But what are the fundamental aspects of the growth mindset theories, and what does this new approach mean for education today?

What is growth mindset?

Growth Mindset

The Growth Mindset is a ground-breaking concept which has been developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Her findings are based on many years of research on achievement and success which looks at fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets. In particular, her work examines the impact that these different mindsets can have on learning and development. 

People who have a fixed mindset believe that their basic abilities and talents are immovable traits. They believe that their natural, innate ability can override the need for continuous improvement and usually dread failure as it reflects badly on their core image of themselves. In a growth mindset, people believe that through effort, continuous learning and hard work they can develop their talents and abilities to effectively overcome natural ability. The growth mindset approach creates a powerful love of learning and a positive mental attitude that embraces failure as a critical way to improve their abilities.

As an example, a student faced with a maths problem who has a fixed mindset will be afraid of getting the answer wrong and will prefer to stay in their comfort zone. The student who approaches the same maths problem with a growth mindset will see this as an opportunity to learn and will be resilient about overcoming the challenge in front of them.

Dweck’s research shows that by adopting the growth mindset theory, effort and sheer hard work can overcome natural ability and pave the way for success in education, business or sport.

The value of growth mindset in teaching and learning

The theory of growth mindset is as applicable to teachers and staff as it is to students. Just as students need to work towards an open, positive and resilient approach to learning, teachers have the opportunity to embrace a culture of positivity and praise within their classrooms. 

The benefits of growth mindset in teaching and learning are significant. Students are likely to feel more empowered to show that effort can overcome natural ability and will be excited to learn and embrace new opportunities. This will impact on their levels of attainment, their attendance and their levels of motivation. Teachers who embrace a growth mindset can collaborate with colleagues rather than focusing solely on their own students’ results, and will feel motivated by the efforts and achievements made by their students mindset is as applicable to teachers and staff as it is to students. 

How to develop a growth mindset learning culture

More and more schools are embracing the growth mindset learning culture within their educational environment and are changing the way that they approach education and learning. But developing a growth mindset learning culture is not an overnight process; there are some fundamental shifts in approach needed to truly embrace this influential theory.

A key shift in approach is about praise and feedback. Praise needs to move away from commenting on how clever a child is to instead praising the hard work and effort involved in a task. The concept of “gifted and talented” children needs to move towards “high-starters”, again recognising the effort that a child puts in rather than their natural ability. Students should feel constantly challenged but in a safe, secure environment where they are able to make mistakes and learn from them.

A growth mindset learning culture also recognises different learning abilities – some children will respond better to visual stimulation rather than traditional teaching methods. The use of educational video as a key learning tool, for example, can engage and stimulate students to delve deeper into a particular subject. Sparking students’ interest will reinforce positive feelings about learning, which is a critical part of the growth mindset.

Another important aspect of developing a growth mindset learning culture is ensuring that parents support this approach in the students’ home environment as well as at school. Parents play a significant role in reinforcing the key positive messages and theories behind growth mindset. Lydia El-Khouri from Keystone Workshops specialises in training parents and teachers how to adopt the growth mindset with children and how to enhance their learning environment. She explains the valuable role that parents play in developing this approach to learning:

"Understanding growth mindset and fixed mindset is invaluable to parents. It’s wonderful that schools are embracing the concept and are embedding this approach in a way that children can understand and appreciate. But to keep the flow going, parents really need to know the basics of it too. It’s such a positive for children to understand that they can change how they learn and that qualities such as persistence, effort and resilience can make a massive difference to attainment.”

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset theory is a powerful concept that empowers students to love learning and to work hard to achieve their full potential. A good illustration of this theory brought to life is a TED talk by Carol Dweck where she describes a fixed mindset and growth mindset approach to the same challenging problem; her talk shows that anyone is capable of high levels of attainment, and that the power of believing is the most influential learning tool of all.

BBC Active Video for Learning offers high quality educational videos covering a wide range of subjects. Whether you are teaching business, geography, history or the sciences, BBC Active’s range of videos are invaluable educational resources to enrich your next class, lecture or workshop.

BBC Active Video for Learning offers high quality educational videos covering a wide range of subjects. Whether you are teaching business, geography, history or the sciences, BBC Active’s range of videos are invaluable educational resources to enrich your next class, lecture or workshop.