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Mindsets – Do They Matter?

It’s observation week. You are getting observed in P.E and you know it is not a subject you are especially confident with. Do you:

  1. a) Lose sleep the night before worrying about a ‘bad’ lesson reflecting poorly on you?
  2. b) Sleep through, knowing it’s a great opportunity for a colleague to give you feedback and reflect on your pedagogical knowledge and pupil learning together?

This is one of those circumstances where our approach can dramatically affect the way we perceive a situation. Carol Dweck originally said, “The hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort, and they persist in the face of obstacles”.

From reading her original work on ‘Growth Mindset’ I can surmise 3 key ideas:

  1. Intelligence and ability are not fixed, they can change, and that skills can be acquired through learning. We should, therefore, value passion, effort and improvement over natural talent.
  2. Intelligence and attitude are closely linked and affect each other. A better attitude will mean you work harder and perform better – this is a growth mindset.
  3. If you believe ability is innate, or God-given, and constant then your work rate and outcomes suffer – you have a fixed mindset.

So, what does this mean for us as teachers, and should we use it to improve outcomes for pupils? We should certainly bear in mind that The EEF’s 2017 analysis of the impact of growth mindset approaches showed ‘no statistically significant impact’ on pupil outcomes. Whilst the EEF’s stuff was thorough, we should always look at educational research with a critical eye, and at Copthorne Primary School we have seen an impact with certain groups of pupils when we introduced growth mindset to staff and pupils.

Implications for Classroom Practice

Firstly,  to develop a growth mindset, we need to praise pupils for persistence and the strategies they use rather than outcome, or for intelligence. Secondly, we need to be  very clear when giving out praise or rewards that we are being specific e.g “You’ve shown real determination with that strategy and found this task a great challenge.” vs. “Clever boy/girl, you have got all the answers right.”

At Copthorne Primary School, we have found this strategy most beneficial (and challenging) for our more able pupils in maths, who, often, have a fixed mindset around their own intelligence and are more interested in getting everything correct and have a fear of failure and mistakes.

Encouraging children to value their errors, sometimes termed ‘helpful mistakes’, has begun to allow pupils to understand these are part of their learning and for them to attempt things they find challenging instead of hiding a lack of knowledge.

Implication for Us

Go back to that original question – where do you stand? After working on this myself for the last year or so, I’m still somewhere in between. I still get ‘the fear’, however, I am more open to sharing things I find challenging with colleagues and have asked to be observed in subjects I find difficult to teach. The feedback from these lessons has been far more useful than simply validating other areas of my practice which I already know to be effective.


Dweck, Carol (2008) Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. New York : Ballantine Books

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K. and Dweck, C. (2007) ‘Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention’, Child Development, 78: 1, 246–63.

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Changing Mindset accessed 9th October 2018