Five misconceptions about Growth Mindset – Part 2

Author: Natalie Nezhati, Educational content consultant

Growth mindset is currently one of the most widely discussed and frequently misunderstood topics in education, with attitudes differing widely. In this post, Natalie continues to discuss the five most common misconceptions…

Misconception 3:  The most important message is that students should ‘try hard’ 

The reputation of Growth Mindset has not been helped by an abundance of cheesy motivational posters featuring mountains and athletes and exclamations of ‘you can do it!’. After all, we know that students must acquire learning strategies to succeed.

‘Great teachers teach students how to reach … high standards’ *1 explains Dweck before describing exactly how a teacher in Los Angeles will carefully personalise learning for the needs of each of his students – for instance, assigning a difficult passage from Macbeth to an able child or preparing an alternative activity for a shy learner. Personalised learning takes time, admits Dweck, but ‘the best teachers help their students to love learning, work hard and to eventually think for themselves’. *2

Sometimes technology can help students to develop independence and metacognition in a way that also supports busy educators. Using NetSupport School, for instance, a student can self-evaluate their learning with an auto-marked quiz which will immediately identify areas of strengths and improvement. Likewise, a student might use a NetSupport Digital Journal to reflect on their past learning and draw connections between topics. This actively encourages student independence and the confidence needed to adapt learning strategies for the future.

We also know from EEF research that metacognitive approaches have ‘consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress’ at a relatively low cost to the school.

Misconception 4: A Growth Mindset culture values self-esteem above criticism 

Dweck says the focus of feedback should be constructive criticism and suggests a firm but gentle ‘not yet’ approach to encourage students to try again; a strategy also recommended in Teacher Toolkit’s recently published book, Mark. Plan. Teach.

Dweck is critical of teachers and parents who try to protect young people from experiencing failure and this is where Growth Mindset differs from the so-called ‘self-esteem movement’ of the 1990s. Melanie Phillips and others have written about the way 90s’ children were shielded from disappointment and adversity in the misguided belief that ‘everyone should win’ and ‘all must have prizes’ to protect their self-esteem.

Misconception 5. Growth Mindset is just for students 

Dweck rightly points out that ‘teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach’. *3 In other words, growth-minded teachers are always learning in ways that extend beyond formally recognised CPD.

The learning opportunities are endless and might involve online Tweet chats, in-person education ‘unconferences’, locally organised TeachMeet events, personal learning networks (PLNs), research projects, professional reading or reflective blogging.

Whether or not you subscribe to a Growth Mindset approach, we can all benefit from sharing expertise and ideas – whether this is organising a local educational conference or simply finding a spare five minutes to catch up with a colleague about what worked for you today.


*1 Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset. London: Robinson, p.199

*2 Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset. London: Robinson, p.199

*3 Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset. London: Robinson, p.201

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