The Growth and The Fixed Mindset: practical implications for EFL


"As parents, teachers, and coaches, we are entrusted with people´s lives, They are our responsibility and our legacy. We now know that the growth mindset has a key role to play in helping us fulfill our mission and in helping them fulfill their potential."

Carol Dweck

One of the best books I have ever read about teaching and learning, Mindset, the new psychology of success, made me think a lot about the way I parent and teach with my students. The author makes the distinction between people who have a growth mindset and people who have a fixed mindset.

A learner with a growth mindset views each learning challenge as an opportunity to grow whereas the learner with the fixed mindset sees it as an opportunity to fail. Carol analyses different real cases of people in business, sports, school, and relationships, giving practical examples of how the growth or fixed mindset can interfere in people's lives.

Having a growth mindset does not mean that you have confidence and think you are the best at something, but just the opposite: it makes people try harder because they see challenge as something that should not limit them. On the other hand, the fixed mindset is so afraid of making mistakes that it doesn't even begin to try.

In the book, Carol also describes how harmful stereo-typing and labeling can be in our society and gives concrete examples of how we can try and change it. She also shows what parents, teachers, and coaches can do to help their pupils fulfill their potential and see learning and effort in a positive way.

The book gave me practical insights of what I can do with my students in order to help them develop the growth mindset:

1) Show results

By establishing goals and showing students all the work they have done to reach them, I focus on their performance and effort. The fact that they worked hard and were able to reach a certain objective is praised.

2) Focus on the present

Frustrating past experiences can be very harmful, especially when the student has a fixed mindset. By focusing on their current pleasant learning experience, I help them put this past behind and look at what they have actually accomplished with the new experience.

3) Always praise challenge

Challenge must be seen as something good. The students that have the tendency to stay in their comfort zone more than necessary are constantly reminded that they don't have to, that there is always something new ahead and that it is something good. By presenting constant small challenges, I get them to see the beauty of leaving their comfort zone and how it can build a sense of self reward.

4) Talking about beliefs

I like to know what my students' beliefs are so that I can help them distinguish what is real and what is not. Some students feel that they can't learn anything new and that they have reached their limit. The simple fact of talking to them about this can make them shift their point of view. They are reminded of how far they have come since we started and how they don't need to limit themselves anymore. By explaining that there are two types of mindsets, I make them reflect on each one they want to choose.

5) Dealing with error correction

Every student that has a private teacher expects them to correct their linguistic mistakes, but not all of them are ready to receive criticism. Being corrected can be stressful and discouraging. That is why I work with motivation constantly, helping them understand that "to bake a cake you need to break a few eggs". No pain, no gain.

Learning can be very stressful for adults and the emotional side of students should be considered at all times. All students can learn and deserve to improve their skills, even the ones who struggle. A teacher's role is also to make them see that.

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