How to recognise students with fixed and growth mindsets?

by Maja Lebeničnik
Mindsets that students have about their intellectual abilities are especially important in educational settings. Beliefs, whether their intellectual abilities are fixed and immutable (fixed mindset) or something one can further develop and change (growth mindset), impact students’ learning decisions, goals, motivation, self-confidence and subsequently their learning achievements. In certain situations, teachers are able to more clearly recognise whether their students have a fixed or a growth mindset. Students with different mindsets act differently when encountering:
  1. A challenge:  Students with a fixed mindset often decide to not start new challenges or choose easier challenges with lower chances of failure. Students with a growth mindset choose more difficult challenges from which they can learn something new. Students with a growth mindset are not as aversive to a possible failure as much as students with a fixed mindset.
  2. A setback: Facing setbacks in the learning process substantially lower learning motivation of students with a fixed mindset. Because having difficulties while learning, not learning fast enough and having to put in an additional effort represents for students with fixed mindset a sign of the lack of abilities. Students with a growth mindset on the other hand understand that sometimes obstacles and delays are normal in the process of learning and that effort and trying are essential parts of goal attainment.
  3. A failure: If a student has a fixed mindset, experiencing a failure affects a person’s self-worth. Failures and mistakes make students with fixed mindset feel ‘stupid’, ‘not talented’ or ‘not suitable for something’. Also, they are more prone to blame others for their own non-success (e.g. teacher). Students with a growth mindset may also be upset with failure but take responsibility for their own learning and interpret a failure more as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. 
  4. A criticism: Students with a fixed mindset act in a defensive way when receiving a criticism, even if it is a constructive one. Instead of reflecting on the given feedback, they often do not accept the criticism or may devalue the person giving a criticism. Students with a growth mindset on the other hand do not feel threatened by criticism and are willing to reflect and learn from constructive feedback.
Teachers may also observe that students with growth mindset
  • put a lot of effort in learning: trying harder, longer and in different ways to achieve goals;
  • enjoy learning;
  • use more diverse and efficient learning strategies; 
  • focus more on improving themselves than on competing with others;
  • are prepared to change something in their learning process if needed
  • have more stable self-confidence, not related to their achievements (do not need to feel superior to others)
  • do not work to protect their ego (e.g. blaming others, not even starting with a task etc.)
Literature: Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential. London: Robinson.