Fostering a Growth Mindset in High Progress Literacy

Learning, Living & Teaching a Growth Mindset in HPL Classrooms

What is Mindset?

Mindsets (Dweck) are two different ways people view intelligence and ability. A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities are static and unchanging: you are who you are; you are smart or or not so smart. You have certain abilities or you don’t. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can develop and grow. Our current abilities are simply a starting point. 

Mindset underlies what we see as motivation or lack of it. It lies beneath what we observe as tenacity and grit in the face of challenges rather than a tendency to give up. It is that part of us that says, “I can’t do this…yet, but I think I can figure it out,” rather than, “I’m no good at this.”

Researcher Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University discovered this concept when they were studying children’s reactions to failure. They were surprised to find that many children who were unable to solve the problems they encountered didn’t view these experiences as failures at all: rather, they viewed them as opportunities to embrace challenge and figure things out. Their research led them to posit that there are two basic mindsets: a growth mindset, and a fixed mindset.

What is a Growth Mindset?
People with a growth mindset embrace problems and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. They understand that our brains and our abilities are constantly changing as we think, learn, and grow our ways toward better understandings and increased competency. Every challenge represents an opportunity to expand our present world. Brains and talent don’t determine our accomplishments; they are just a starting point. It takes dedication, effort, and practice to develop our gifts.
What is a Fixed Mindset?
People with a fixed mindset view talent and intelligence as fixed traits. You are either smart or not. You’re athletic or not. You’re good at math, or you’re not. Gifted at writing, or art, or mathematics, or music…or not. “I am smart. I am witty. I am dumb,” are all fixed mindset statements. People with a fixed mindset are often most interested in displaying their smartness and ability, while avoiding situations that reveal what they don’t already know or know how to do.

Can We Change Our Mindsets?

Yes. Mindset is not all or nothing. We all have growth mindsets about some things and fixed about other things. As educators, though, it is critical that we examine our mindsets, especially our mindsets about our students and about individual students in particular.

Do you really believe that every student can learn, change and grow if given appropriate opportunities and support? More to the point, do you believe you can learn, change and grow so that you can provide the support and experiences your most fragile learners need to grow, change and learn? These questions are critical for HPL educators. 

Peter Johnson’s wonderful books, Choice Words and Opening Minds provide help for us to examine our mindsets through the ways we use language in our classrooms. Are we fostering growth mindsets or fixed mindsets with the language we use…often with our best intentions? How does our language reflect our beliefs and foster children’s beliefs in the nature of their own capacities? 

A Few of our Favorite Videos about Mindset

The Power of Belief: Mindset and Success. Eduardo Briceno
The way we understand our intelligence and abilities deeply impacts our success. Based on social science research and real life examples, Eduardo Briceño articulates how mindset, or the understanding of intelligence and abilities, is key. When students or adults see their abilities as fixed, whether they think they’re naturals or just not built for a certain domain, they avoid challenge and lose interest when things get hard. Published on YouTube Nov 18, 2012
You Can Learn Anything  | Khan Academy
Khan Academy is on a mission to unlock the world’s potential. Most people think their intelligence is fixed. The science says it’s not. Published on YouTube Aug. 19, 2014

Growth Mindset Swimmer

This young man joined his high school swim team…but he didn’t know how to swim! His belief that he could develop his abilities togetehr with time and effort allowed him to become a competitor. Published on YouTube April 18, 2018


Scientists now understand that our brains are malleable. We are constantly wiring and rewiring our brains throughout our lives. Published on YouTube January 17, 2016

Mindset & Practice in Maths

Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics learning at Stanford University explains mindset in maths. Published on YouTubeMay 15, 2016

Braincrossing in Maths

Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics learning at Stanford University explains how doing math different ways–visualizing, modleing, drawing, explaining–creates linkages in the brain that foster deep learning. Published on YouTubeMay 15, 2016

Famous Failures before Success

Everyone who is successful has experienced failure first. Published on YouTube January 17, 2016

Girl’s First Ski Jump

Published on YouTube March 12, 2012

A fourth-grade girl overcomes her fears to make her first ski jump. We all have the capacity to learn from our own experiences. 

The Woman Who Changed her Brain 

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is a living example of the power of the human mind to recreate itself. She is the Creator and Director of Arrowsmith School and Arrowsmith Program, and the author of the international best-selling book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. She is recognized as the creator of one of the first practical applications of the principles of neuroplasticity to the treatment of learning disorders. Published on YouTube April 27, 2013

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