Growth Mindset Discussion

Getting students to have a Growth Mindset is something that I’ve been working on and improving every year I’ve taught. This year I had a discussion about it later in the year than I should (at the end of the 1st quarter), but it was still a very valuable discussion.

The Discussion

I started by giving them a Google Form with this question:

How does math work?

I only gave them two possible answers:

People are born with math skills or aren’t. How good you are at math mostly depends on that.

People who work hard in math class can get better at doing math. How good you are at math mostly depends on that.

I intentionally left off the “something in between” answer even though many students immediately complained they thought it was a combination of both. I wanted to see which they thought was more important. The results surprised me:


Growth Mindset Results

They surprised me because I thought a vast majority would vote for “people are born with math skills.” Perhaps my students are starting to believe the opposite of that simply because of the way my class works and the classroom culture I try to cultivate, despite not having an overt discussion on this topic before now? [1]

Me: Forget, for a second, whether Fixed Mindset (blue above) or Growth Mindset (red above) is true. Some scientists did a study and looked at whether students had a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset, and who got better grades. Do you guys think one group of students had better grades?

Students: Maybe…

Me: Well it did affect it, significantly. Like, the students who had the Growth Mindset did way, way better, on average, than those with the Fixed Mindset. [2]

I asked for a little input on why people voted for the one they did, and some students spoke up. I confessed to them that I used to have a Fixed Mindset, well into college. And I told them about a student from a few years ago, who they mostly knew, who made the comment at her senior presentation “I didn’t think I was that good a student.” I explained that I could believe that because early on in her junior year, she didn’t really “stand out” from others beyond the fact that she worked really, really hard.

She’s the only student in the history of our school to get into the BA/MD program.[3]

I then showed them this cool diagram and we talked about how changing their mindset:


I’m really glad we had this discussion, even if it was a bit late in the year. It was one of those times in the classroom where I could almost feel the students grabbing at the inspiration with their eyes and wanting to be better students and people because of the discussion. Or maybe that’s just all in my mind. Either way, the one thing I need to get better at is mentioning this discussion more often in the future whenever a student is bummed about a grade, frustrated with a problem, or envious of another’s success.

Already a few students have started coming in much more often to demonstrate standards. Wohoo.


[1] Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

[2] I can’t quote this study, but I’ve heard it before. If you know of the study, please leave it in the comments below so I can show my students!

[3] It’s a program at UNM (several school have it) where you receive admission to medical school prior to entering undergrad. Needless to say, it’s a very competitive application into the program.


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