Growth Mindset

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. Research shows that when students develop what she has called a "growth mindset" then they believe that intelligence and "smartness" can be learned and that the brain can grow from exercise. The implications of this mindset are profound: students with a growth mindset work and learn more effectively, displaying a desire for challenge and resilience in the face of failure. On the other hand, those with a "fixed mindset" believe that you are either smart or you are not. When students with a fixed mindset fail or make a mistake, they believe that they are just not smart and give up. Such students frequently avoid challenge, preferring instead to complete easier work on which they know they will succeed.  

Key findings include:

  • The plasticity of the brain: ability and intelligence grow with effort and practice. 
  • The importance of students’ mindsets for learning: when students believe that everybody’s ability can grow, their achievement improves significantly. 
  • The importance of teachers’ mindsets for teaching: when teachers believe that everybody’s ability can grow, and they give all students opportunities to achieve at high levels, students achieve at high levels. 
  • The effects of ability grouping in all its different forms: these grouping practices communicate damaging fixed mindset beliefs to students. 

Fixed mindset beliefs contribute to inequalities in education, as they particularly harm minority students and girls; they also contribute to overall low achievement and participation. 

Courses and Resources

How to Learn Math: For Students (en español)

A free, self-paced online course for students of all levels of mathematics. Available in English and Spanish versionsDeveloped by youcubed.

How to Learn Math: For Teachers

An online course for teachers that explores how to use research on math learning, including growth mindset, to transform students' experiences with math. Developed by youcubed.

Other Resources for Teachers

MindsetKit.Org is a set of online lessons and practices designed to help you teach and foster adaptive learning mindsets. (Requires an account.)

Articles about Growth Mindset

Evidence that students’ beliefs about their brains drive learning

Susana Claro and Susanna Loeb report on a study that used data from five school districts in California that measure growth mindset for students in 3rd to 8th grade to assess the extent that students with stronger growth mindset learn more in a given year than those without. It finds that traditionally underserved students—including students in poverty, English learners, Hispanics, and African-American students—are less likely to hold a growth mindset. Yet, for all groups, students with a growth mindset learn more over the course of year than otherwise similar students who do not have a growth mindset.

While this study is just a first step in assessing the effects of mindset on a large population of students and the role of schools in building mindset, the findings provide initial evidence that it may be beneficial to monitor the levels of growth mindset in the population and convey to students that the brain is malleable. 

Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education - Jo Boaler

Recent scientific evidence demonstrates both the incredible potential of the brain to grow and change and the powerful impact of growth mindset messages upon students’ attainment. This article reviews evidence for brain plasticity, the importance of mindset and the ways that mindset messages may be communicated through classroom and grouping practices. 

You’re all ‘math people,’ but you just didn’t know it

Jennifer L. Ruef writes in the San Francisco Chronicle about how and why we are all math people. Includes great resources for parents.

Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards

A brief article on growth mindset, its relationship with the Standards for Math Practice, and their importance in helping students become successful in math. December 3, 2013, Edutopia

In offering a variety of instructional strategies and activities, growth mindset teachers maximize opportunities for multiple interactions with mathematics. A classroom steeped in the SMPs allows students to actively discover, interpret, analyze, process, practice and communicate—all of which have the potential to move information from working memory into long-term memory, ultimately expanding brainpower and mathematics intelligence.

Students Benefit from Learning That Intelligence Is Not Fixed

Teaching students that intelligence can grow and blossom with effort$mdash;rather than being a fixed trait they’re just born with—is gaining traction in progressive education circles. And new research from Stanford is helping to build the case that nurturing a “growth mindset” can help many kids understand their true potential. By Ingfei Chen July 2014, Mind/Shift

Children's Books

A number of children's books can help spark a conversation about growth mindset.
Bookcover for the Fantastic Elastic Brain Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
by JoAnn Deak Ph.D. and Sarah Ackerley

Teaches children that they have the ability to stretch and grow their own brains. It also delivers the crucial message that mistakes are an essential part of learning. The book introduces children to the anatomy and various functions of the brain in a fun and engaging way. 
book cover for The  Most Magnificent Thing The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires (Author, Illustrator)

For the early grades, this funny book offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity. 
Bookcover for The Dot The Dot , by Peter H. Reynolds (Author, Illustrator)
This book is about not believing in yourself, starting small, and then moving on and then surprising yourself in what you can do. The book is dedicated to his 7th grade math teacher.  

Available in Spanish.
Disponible en español - el punto
Book cover for Stuck Stuck 
by Oliver Jeffers  (Author, Illustrator)

A funny book about about being stuck, trying different and creative things, and getting unstuck.  

Available in Spanish.
Disponible en español - Atrapados


This page was last updated on June 22, 2023