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The Key to Student Success: nurturing a growth mindset


student successIn his book Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success, Bryan Goodwin describes a now famous 1965 study conducted by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson:

A group of teachers were told that some of the students in their classrooms had been identified by a special Harvard test as being “gifted”—or in their words, “On the brink of rapid intellectual and academic development.”

What the teachers didn’t know was that 1) there was no test and 2) these “gifted” students were the results of a random selection. When the experiment concluded, Rosenthal and Jacobson found that many of these students who had been randomly labeled “gifted” were actually demonstrating higher IQs than their peers. What this seems to suggest is that teachers’ expectations do impact student success.

Those skeptical of Rosenthal’s and Jacobson’s findings will learn that a 2009 study by John Hattie echoed their conclusions:

Teacher expectations do impact student achievement. How much? We don’t know. What we do know is that research shows that there are effective and ineffective ways of motivating our students.

We’ve all encountered students who, no matter what we do, refuse to apply themselves. We know that they’re perfectly capable of meeting (and exceeding) our expectations, so we pull them aside and say, “Joe, I know you’re smart and you can do well. All you have to do is apply yourself.”

When we do this, certainly our heart is in the right place, but according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, telling students they are smart actually lowers their motivation and achievement.

During a study, Dweck and her colleagues divided students into two groups; each was treated differently:

  • One group was praised for their ability and would hear things like, “Wow. You got eight right; you must be really smart.”
  • The other group heard things like, “Wow. You got eight right; you must have worked really hard.”

At the conclusion of the study, Dweck found that the students who were continually praised developed a “fixed-mindset” and began to believe that their intelligence was innate. As a result, they began to fear failure and thus avoided challenging tasks.

However, 90 percent of the students in the second group took on more challenging tasks and found they actually enjoyed the work.

Here are a few of Bryan Goodwin’s Dos and Don’ts for helping your students develop a growth mindset:

  • Say this (growth mindset) . . . "Your practice is really paying off. You're getting your math facts down."
  • Not this (fixed mindset) . . . "Wow, that was quick! You blazed right through those problems! You’re a math whiz."
  • Say this (growth mindset) . . . "You seem frustrated and tired right now. That means your brain is working hard. We’ll keep at it, and I know you’re going to get it."
  • Not this (fixed mindset) . . . "Not everyone is a natural at this. Let’s do a few more problems and then move on to something you’re better at."


Thanks for this post! We’ve been building an ed resource at too. Bringing together some of the best speech & lecture videos from top universities for use for higher ed faculty, staff, and students. It’s a good free resource for courses, learning, or professional development. Feel free to share or blog it if you find it useful. 
Posted @ Sunday, March 17, 2013 10:06 AM by DJ
Thanks for sharing, DJ. We'll be sure to check it out.  
-The MAT Team
Posted @ Monday, March 18, 2013 1:40 PM by The MAT Team
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Posted @ Tuesday, October 01, 2013 3:09 PM by bedding sets
Thanks for the article. I love Dweck's book and look forward to reading some practical ideas in Goodwin's book.
Posted @ Friday, July 18, 2014 6:21 AM by Shaun Killian
Thanks for reading, Shaun. Goodwin's book is definitely worth a read.
Posted @ Friday, July 18, 2014 8:22 AM by The OnlineGrad Team
I have always had similar suppositions, but Dweck's study completely convinced me. Thanks for sharing
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