Students’ beliefs in intelligence significantly affect their attitude towards learning and how they generally experience school. It contributes to their ability to participate during the class. Furthermore, it impacts how they deal with setbacks and challenges that arise when learning.
As such, mindset plays a critical role in learning and, consequently, students’ success. This article looks into two main types of mindsets: fixed and growth. It will also explore cases where mindset directly affects various aspects of learning.
Mindset and Learning: Table of Contents
- What is mindset and why is it important?
- What are the two types of mindset?
- How Mindset Affects Learning
What is mindset and why is it important?
Mindset is the belief that qualities such as talent, skills, and intelligence are fixed or changeable (O’Keefe et al., 2018). It is one’s perception of how brains work and how it affects behavior and actions.
Mindset plays a vital role in how people cope with and respond to different challenges and problems in life. It also affects resilience, grit, and motivation. According to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, it contributes to a person’s increased efforts in the face of adversity. Consequently, it is a key component in one’s pursuit of success and achievements.
For instance, a survey among students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher shows a majority of them possessing very high motivation. At the heart of such high motivation is a mindset that affects attitude and behavior, resulting in better outcomes.
Source: Janssen & O'Brien (2014)
What are the two types of mindset?
Mindset develops early in one’s life. Experts think that mindset is a combination of experiences, values, and how children are raised. While each individual’s mindset is unique, they can be grouped into two general types: fixed mindset and growth mindset (O’Keefe et al., 2018).
Fixed mindset refers to the belief that ability or talent are fixed traits that do not change over time (O’Keefe et al., 2018). It sees effort as bad as one should not have to work hard if they have the talent or skill. Those with such a mindset are concerned with the appearance of being smart to prove their abilities.
Individuals who are taught to have this behavior are focused on how they are judged. Consequently, a fear of not living up to expectations develops during early childhood. Furthermore, they see helplessness as a sign of failure, which means it is time to give up.
People with a growth mindset consider abilities as malleable. As such, they believe that talent is developed over time through practice, studies, and other endeavors. They enjoy challenges and are more likely to explore and embrace new experiences.
Instead of considering mistakes as the end, they see it as an opportunity to try new approaches. They are open to making errors for the sake of learning. This means they develop resilience and grit during their formative years.
How Mindset Affects Learning
While there are numerous studies conducted on the effects of mindset on student performance, it is best exemplified by Dweck’s study among Chilean 10th graders. It showed that a growth mindset reduces the significant effect of poverty on academic achievement.
Effect of Mindset on Academic Performance
Blackwell and colleagues (2007) conducted two experiments among middle school students to explore the impact of a fixed mindset (entity theory) and a growth mindset (incremental theory) on their mathematics grades.
Students who exhibited a growth mindset showed improvements in their mathematics grades over two years of junior high school (Blackwell et al., 2007). On the other hand, students with a fixed mindset showed no changes in their math grades at all.
Furthermore, an additional experiment was conducted to see the effect of intervention teaching that uses a growth mindset. The teaching methods used in the experiment group included developing learning goals, a positive attitude towards effort, and similar strategies. At the end of the study, those in the experimental group showed positive changes in their academic performance. On the other hand, those in the control group who did not use growth mindset techniques showed a downward trajectory in performance and grades.
Impact of Mindset on Seeking Feedback
Another study examined how people with varying mindsets seek feedback after they failed or struggled with a task (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008). Researchers administered a difficult test among participants. After the examination, they told the participants that they did not do well on the tests. Then, the participants were given two choices: look at the tests of those who scored worse than them or those who performed better than them.
Subjects with a growth mindset chose to review the tests of those who scored better than them. Their motivation is to learn from those who had done better in the examination. Meanwhile, those with fixed mindsets elected to look at the test results of subjects who performed worse than them. Their goal is to make themselves feel better by comparing their performance with those with lower scores.
Relationship Between Grit and Mindset
Grit is the ability to sustain effort and interest toward goals for a long-time (Duckworth, 2018). Individuals with high levels of grit are more likely to believe that they can control events in their lives. As such, these people are willing to put in the effort to achieve their goals despite setbacks and challenges. It highlights one’s long-term stamina instead of short-term intensity.
A survey of various studies showed that possessing a growth mindset is a key component of grit (Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015). Students who believe that they can grow their abilities make an effort to improve and eventually reach their goals. They are able to face hurdles and apply themselves to increasingly challenging tasks. These traits and skills are crucial in a student’s development both in academic and professional life.
Neuroplasticity: Changing One’s Mindset
An increasing number of studies attempt to find the biological evidence of a growth mindset. Despite the absence of definitive empirical research, potential evidence points towards neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and remodel to adapt to new situations and changes in the environment (Demarin & Morović, 2014).
The brain is likened to a malleable plastic. It continues to develop throughout one’s lifetime, even during adulthood. It reshapes itself as it creates and loses neural pathways.
A key component of a growth mindset is motivation, which can be traced to certain parts of the brain, such as the ventral striatum and anterior cingulate cortex (Ng, 2018). Motivated behaviors directly affect people’s thoughts and actions.
As students focus more on learning, neural pathways are established. Practicing skills leads to the formation of more neuronal circuits that leads to better ability in performing particular tasks. The brain becomes familiar with these pathways, thereby further developing the ability until it becomes “easy” to the individual.
As these thoughts and actions become a habit, it becomes “hardwired” to the brain. The repetition of tasks creates “routes” that become easier to use.
For example, solving mathematical problems creates millions of neural pathways. In the beginning, solving such problems is more difficult as the circuits are not fully developed. However, as the student continues to practice and learns from mistakes, new connections are created each time, which leads to better critical and logical thinking.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset?
Mindset development primarily happens during childhood, which means parents, teachers, and peers have a significant effect on one’s attitude towards ability (O’Keefe et al., 2018). However, this does not mean that students cannot develop a growth mindset on their own. There are numerous steps that help develop a growth mindset (Briggs, 2020).
First, acknowledging one’s imperfections is an excellent start, especially in recognizing challenges and failures as opportunities for self-improvement. Additionally, it shifts the focus on learning instead of seeking approval. Different learning tactics can be explored to further improve one’s ability by focusing on the process instead of the end result.
As the ability of an individual to appreciate learning and development improves, it becomes easy to cultivate a sense of purpose by setting goals that celebrate growth instead of speed. Valuing growth allows an individual to accept criticism as a necessary element of improvement.
Developing a growth mindset is a continuous process. Just like what the mindset entails, its development requires an effort that highlights one’s ability to improve over time.
- Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78 (1), 246-263. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.00995.x
- Briggs, S. (2020, December 16). 25 ways to develop a growth mindset. Open Colleges
- Demarin, V., & Morović, S. (2014). Neuroplasticity. Periodicum Biologorum, 116 (2), 209-211. https://hrcak.srce.hr/126369
- Duckworth, A. (2018). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner. Google Books
- Janssen, S., & O’Brien, M. (2014). Disentangling the effects of student attitudes and behaviors on academic performance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8 (2), 7. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2014.080207
- Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed and growth mindset in education and how grit helps students persist in the face of adversity. Journal of International Education Research, 11 (1), 47-50. https://doi.org/10.19030/jier.v11i1.9099
- Ng, B. (2018). The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. Brain Sciences, 8 (2). https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci8020020
- Nussbaum, A. D., & Dweck, C. S. (2008). Defensiveness versus remediation: self-theories and modes of self-esteem maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (5), 599-612. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167207312960
- O’Keefe, P. A., Dweck, C. S., & Walton, G. M. (2018). Implicit theories of interest: finding your passion or developing it? Psychological Science, 29 (10), 1653-1664. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618780643
- Romero, C. (2015). What we know about growth mindset from scientific research. Mindset Scholars Network.