4 Ways to Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset

People with a "fixed mindset" think that intelligence is static—that they have a certain amount of it which cannot really be changed. Other people have a "growth mindset." They think intelligence is malleable—that it can be developed and increased through hard work.

Students who have a growth mindset tend to do better in school (especially when they encounter academic difficulties) as well as on the SAT and ACT.  However, cultivating a growth mindset in students is actually much more challenging than it might seem.

Below, are four lessons we have learned about how to cultivate a growth mindset in teenagers. 

  • Do NOT tell students to have a growth mindset

    The first rule of growth mindset is that you do not talk about growth mindset. Teenage students often have a negative reaction to being told how to think. They respond much more positively to being shown that something works with objective evidence. 

    • Do not tell students to "just try harder"

      Most students, especially those who are struggling, have heard "just try harder." This is rarely ever helpful to students. Instead of that old line, explain to students why they should put in extra effort (again, use objective evidence to back all claims) and specifically how to deploy that effort. Sometimes a better strategy is more useful than simply increasing effort.

      • Celebrate mistakes!

        Most students fear making mistakes. They often think mistakes are an indication of a lack of intelligence. But research shows that mistakes are a critical part of learning. Having to work through a difficult problem and try different strategies is the optimum method for learning to improve on standardized exams (and in other areas of life). Encourage your student to embrace mistakes and show them how to learn from them. As one of our students once told us: "Fail...fail better...fail better...succeed."

        • Praise the process, not the person

          Our first impulse is often to praise students for being smart. This sends the wrong message. When students later encounter a setback they conclude: "If my past success meant I was smart, my current struggle means I'm not smart." Instead, praise students for their effort and hard work. This implies that you value hard work and that effort is the root cause of success.