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Fostering a growth mindset

fostering growth mindset

Students’ own beliefs in their own competence, intelligence and skills play an important role in their learning experience, engagement and performance and in the way they experience setbacks.

Disadvantaged students, when they excel and manage to secure a place at university, despite all the barriers and challenges they have faced, are often labelled ‘gifted’. However, this label may emphasise the importance of students’ innate abilities over cognitive ones, emphasise talent over hard work, perseverance and resilience. It may imply effortless achievement, foster a fear of failure and lead to students avoiding challenges and lack of effort, and as a result, create significant barriers to learning.

Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, looked at the origins of the mindsets that people adopt, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement. People with a fixed mindset approach believe that their intellectual abilities are fixed, while those with a growth mindset approach believe that abilities can be developed. According to Dweck‘the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value’.

Universities invest significantly in closing the awarding gap, particularly for disadvantaged students. Here are three key actions universities may consider to foster a growth mindset to reduce inequality in academic success between advantaged and disadvantaged students:

1. Invest in, develop, and promote Academic Professional Development

Academic Professional Development (APD) plays a crucial role in guiding, supporting, and enhancing educators’ practices in ways that affect student perceptions and outcomes. Well-designed and well-implemented APD can inspire and promote a learning culture and ongoing professional learning and development among educators. Such culture means that educators are positively engaged in enhancing their practice, skills and effectiveness, they are supported to help students develop a belonging and growth mindset and improve outcomes and the student experience. Such classroom environment requires that educators have time and space to reflect and develop.

2. Encourage educators to work with Academic Professional Development

APD can encourage and support educators to explore interventions and to self-reflect on their own practice and mindsets – to become aware of their own beliefs, assumptions, and/or biases. So that they can then support students to develop effective strategies and a suitable learning environment. Some ways that educators can do this are via:

  • Normalising failure as a productive part of the learning process (for example, through classroom activities and formative assessment)
  • Showing to students the value of what is being learnt and its relevance in everyday life (in class and through live brief assessment)
  • Promoting collaboration instead of competition among students (in class and through group work assessment)
  • Considering the assessment design (for example, authentic, inclusive, group work, focus on process not just on outcome, normalise failure and focus on way feedback is provided)
  • Making learning about the process not just the outcome.

Educators’ role is crucial in understanding classroom contexts and how they may be changed so that interventions can be more effective. The above ways do not mean lowering standards. On the contrary, it means challenging students and putting them in the frame of mind where they can try and do their best and where they can believe that they can do anything. Not because their lecturers telling them, but through helping them develop the necessary skills and the habit to explore further, to look for resources and learning opportunities beyond a class or a module. Educators who continue to learn along with their students and have the confidence to admit that they do not know everything, serve as great role models to students.

3.  Develop and evaluate growth mindset interventions

APD aims to provide practical resources and examples of good practice and support, and to co-create and evaluate with educators well-crafted interventions and inclusive teaching practices that help create effective learning environments, where all students feel a sense of belonging. Such interventions may include:

  • Series of sessions in which students learn about the function of the brain and how the brain could become stronger by taking on challenges
  • Workshops (for example, on neuroplasticity and self-efficacy, task value, and self-regulation)
  • Self-administered online modules (on neuroplasticity, trying new strategies, and seeking help from experts).

When educators and students believe that intellectual abilities can grow through hard work, determination, and correct strategies, they can transform how they approach learning and help shift the focus away from content delivery to active and transformative learning. Open communication about failure can reduce negative stigma and normalise it as a necessary part of the learning process.

The measures outlined here will not transform students overnight. As student diversity increases, pedagogical approaches must evolve accordingly and ongoing strategic action by universities can reduce the awarding gap. Considering the concept of a growth mindset in institutional plans, universities can develop evidence-based principles and well-crafted interventions and tailor them according to institutional and departmental needs and cultures.

About the author: Frantzeska Kolyda MPhil SFHEA, is a Senior Lecturer and EDI School Co-Lead at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, College of Design, Creative and Digital Industries, University of Westminster. 

This article has been kindly re-purposed from Advance HE and you can read the original here