A New Year, a New Vision: Growth Mindset

By McGraw-Hill Education Senior Academic Designer Angela M. Wilson, M.S.Ed.

The topic of Growth Mindset has become very popular in education circles recently. It was frequently discussed during the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conference; it has been the topic of several podcasts; and it has been the subject of several teacher professional development sessions. So, what is it? Why is it important? And how can it be used effectively?

What is Growth Mindset?
Based on the work of Stanford University psychologist, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., growth mindset explores student motivation and challenges the notion that people are limited by intelligence levels. Dweck believes that a “fixed mindset,” or belief that intelligence is a fixed characteristic, thwarts student motivation and reduces the likeliness that a student will succeed in a given area. Conversely, a “growth mindset” involves an understanding that students can improve in areas of difficulty when given the right kind of support.

Why is it important?
This is critical because it exposes how damaging it can be to accept the belief that someone is just not good at a particular subject. This type of thinking is described by Dweck as a “fixed mindset.” When people have a fixed mindset, and believe that they are not good at a subject, they are unlikely to choose actions that will help them succeed in that area. They avoid challenges, easily give up, disregard constructive criticism, and are less likely to reach higher levels of achievement. On the other hand, those who have a growth mindset tend to be more excited by the challenge, are more willing to engage in the area, and often develop more sophisticated problem-solving skills to approach the subject.

How can it be used effectively?

  • Focus on learning goals rather than performance goals. When students are given performance goals, or goals that assess knowledge, they perceive that they are being judged, and rely more on their fixed mindset. They tend to believe that their base knowledge or skillset will dictate the result. However, when students are given learning goals, or goals that are designed to help students increase their competence, they tend to feel less judged and assume that if they haven’t solved a problem yet that they just need to find a new approach.
  • Praise effort rather than intelligence. Students who are praised for high ability attribute it to a fixed quality, whereas students who are praised for effort attribute it to their performance which is not fixed, but rather an area in which they can further develop.
  • Learn more about growth mindset. Dweck’s theories are rich and complex. This overview merely scratches the surface of growth mindset. Explore Dweck’s work to help further shape your understanding of growth mindset and how it can impact your classroom.


Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological review, 95(2), 256.

Angela Wilson is Senior Academic Designer at McGraw-Hill Education, where she manages math curriculum development. She is a former 4th Grade Teacher and Professional Development Product Manager. Angela holds a M.S. in Math Education and a B.S. in Elementary Education, and she is currently enrolled in an MBA program in Educational Leadership.

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