Sunday, December 18, 2016


Recent reports suggest that social-psychological interventions (even brief and conducted on-line) can alter the way students think about learning. A good summary of interventions affecting identity and community,  passion and purpose,  grit and growth, and learning strategies can be found here.

Broadly speaking, these interventions embrace the principle that teaching students certain attitudes, beliefs, and skills, such as

  • believing that intelligence is malleable 
  • taking pride in belonging to their learning community 
  • seeing the connection between school and future goals 
  • developing metacognitive learning skills

improves their intrinsic motivation, in turn resulting in more effective persistence and stronger academic performance. More importantly this approach equips students with the ability to internalize setbacks as learning opportunities.  As Dweck writes in Mindset

“the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
Stanford University recently launched “THE RESILIENCE PROJECT” that “combines personal storytelling, events, programs, and academic skills coaching to motivate and support students as they experience the setbacks that are a normal part of a rigorous education.” The website has several short videos that might be utilized in our teaching and advising:

Sunday, December 11, 2016


In Mindsetsand Equitable Education, Carol Dweck argues that beliefs of students, teachers, and administrators have a profound impact on students’ achievement. Research shows that students’ mindsets affect academic performance. In their recent PNAS paper, Claro, Paunesku and Dweck describe a fascinating analysis of the school performance data of almost 170,000 10th graders from 2,392 public schools in Chile. They demonstrate that students’ mindset is as powerful a predictor of achievement (measured as a composite of mathematics and language scores) as the previously known socioeconomic factors, such as family income and parents’ education. While fewer students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds exhibited growth mindset, those who did, and were in the lowest 10th percentile of family income, achieved standardized test scores comparable to students who came from the top 20th income percentile but did not demonstrate growth mindset. This is the first report to date showing that growth mindset might potentially temper effects of poverty on academic achievement.
Educators’ mindsetsare equally important - as Dweck states
"People with a growth mind-set don’t put people in categories and expect them to stay there, but people with a fixed mind-set do.
In addition to our GROWTH MINDSET FEEDBACK blogpost, the Standards Based Grading site offers interesting resources, including assessment methods that reflect the growth mindset of the teacher, and promote growth mindset in the student. They assert, "At the end of the day, whatever values we’re trying to promote can only go as far as the way we assess and evaluate the kids."

The cultural shift towards more growth minded classroom cannot happen without changing the institutional mindset. The MindsetWorks site provides a 20-question quiz assessing your school's culture with regard to growth mindset practices. There are examples of entire universities using growth mindset as an institutional paradigm. For example, High Point University made growth mindset a central theme of their strategic plan.

Carole Dweck ends her 2010 article with a message, probably more relevant today than ever:
“Teachers and administrators should send messages that intelligence is fluid, and they need to hear such messages too. They need to keep growing, especially in these challenging and changing times. Thus, they, too, need permission to learn—the freedom to stretch themselves, make mistakes, and try again. Only in growth mind-set cultures, where teachers and administrators are encouraged to fulfill their potential, will they be able to help their students fulfill their potential in schools that are free of bias.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016


There are many on-line resources for students on how to establish and sustain growth mindset. The TRAIN UGLY website has a full growth mindset lesson. Some additional resources are embedded below.





Sunday, November 27, 2016


Almost 10 years ago, Po Brownson published an article in New York Magazine “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.”  Based on early research of Dweck and others, she argued that praising personal traits (such as intelligence) can have detrimental effect on motivation and performance.

There has been growing body of literature underscoring the potential of intentional “wise criticism” on improving students’ performance. For example, Cohen, Yeager, and others have demonstrated that so-called “wise feedback” (i.e. emphasizing teacher’s high standards and belief that students were capable of meeting them”) resulted in improved quality of student’s work and that the improvement was particularly strong for students “who felt more mistrusting of school” (see this link for the full article).

MINDSETKIT has an excellent cycle of lessons on how to encourage growth mindset by praising process rather than the person, embracing challenges and mistakes, and using formative assessment and peer feedback.

There are many on-line resources with practical tips on how to include growth mindset feedback in the classroom (see for example LarryFerlazzo's Blog, the GrowthMindset Feedback Tool, and Teaching Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck.)

Sunday, November 20, 2016


David Gross (UMASS) and Peter Newbury (UCSD) put together a presentation on first class do’s and don't’s in the context of supporting students’ motivation and growth mindset. The key is to use the first lesson to begin establishing academic mindset focused on four key beliefs (see the full reference here):
“I belong in this learning community” (sense of belonging)
“My ability and mastery will growth with my effort” (growth mindset)
“I am able to succeed at this” (self-efficacy)
“This class/work has value for me” (relevance) 
For example, telling students why the course is interesting and worthwhile and that you think they can succeed if they put in the effort, contributes to improved sense of belonging and thus increased motivation. Conversely, telling students that some of them are expected to fail (as the class is traditionally considered difficult) or emphasizing rules and penalties on the first day, contributes to belonging uncertainty, particularly among students who might be unsure about their choices or abilities.

Mindset Kit provides an excellent cycle of lessons on belonging, describing small but important cues in the environment that can promote or hinder belonging in the classroom: Belonging for Educators (13 lessons, 45 minutes to complete).

Other useful resources:
100 Growth Mindset Quotes
Growth Mindset Comparisons for Educators
MindShift (large collection of materials and teaching strategies)
Growth Mindset Lesson Plan (from Khan Academy)
CNSM How to Succeed website

Saturday, November 12, 2016


In Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate,” Carol Dweck describes how classroom messages can help in developing growth mindset, thus enhancing student’s motivation and ultimately resulting in greater achievement. The next three posts will discuss practical strategies for encouraging growth mindset in the classroom: how you can use the course structure, syllabus, assessment, feedback, and communication to foster growth mindset.

The syllabus can be used to encourage growth mindset by including messages or policies that focus on incremental development and improvement, put value on hard work and effort as a way to achieve mastery, and provide opportunity for formative feedback. Santa Monica College partners with PERTS Lab at Stanford University and UCLA in a student success initiative called GRIT. Their website offers a rubric intended to assess how your current syllabus encourages growth mindset, several examples of growth mindset and fixed mindset language, and a handout on fostering deep learning by incorporating the principles of growth mindset and grit.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


The website provides wealth of information on the phenomenon of stereotype threat (please see this video with a short explanation of stereotype threat).  The term stereotype threat was originally coined by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson in the early 1990s, and defined as a
situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group.
Research suggests that stereotype threat reduces the individual’s working memory capacity thus impeding performance (see also an article by Schmader, Johns, and Forbes, An Integrated Process Model of Stereotype Threat Effects on Performance).

Teaching growth mindset reduces stereotype threat (see this powerpoint overview by Beth Fisher, Washington University in St. Louis). For example, Aronson, Fried and Good have demonstrated that teaching African American students that intelligence is malleable improves performance (see Aronson, Fried, and Good full study). In another study Cohen and others demonstrated that brief writing assignment designated to “reaffirm students sense of personal adequacy or self-integrity” improved grades of African American students and reduced the achievement gap.

Dr. Greg Walton, Department of Psychology at Stanford University, has an excellent website with resources on growth mindset, belonging interventions, and stereotype threat.

There are many additional examples of how growth mindset can help reducing stereotype threat:
  • An excellent “Belonging for Educators” lesson on mindsetkit 
  • A 2-page handout by American Bar Association on how growth mindset reduces implicit bias and stereotype threat
  • An article on problems with believing in innate talent (see link here)
  • An article in Science Magazine on women in stem (see link here)
  • A handout on shielding students (high school) from stereotype threat (see link here)
  • A lecture in stereotype threat by Joshua Aronson

  • A lecture on stereotype threat in STEM by Claude Steele

  • A panel conversation (Drs. Claude Steele, Carol Dweck, Geoff Cohen, and Deborah Stipek) on “Identity, Motivation, and Stereotype Threat: How do they matter for learning?”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

GROWTH MINDSET IN MATHEMATICS (II) - Developmental Mathematics

Drs. Benken and Li, along with Jorge Ramirez and Scott Wetendorf, conducted a study concerning students taking developmental mathematics courses in a large public comprehensive university setting. Their findings suggest a need for
re-evaluation of developmental mathematics courses to include student outcomes that focus on attitudes about mathematics in addition to content and skills.”
They note that
"math anxiety taxes and competes with resources that are normally used for working memory,"
thus impeding development of a positive mathematical identity.

Carnegie Foundation estimates that 60 percent of the nation’s 13 million community college students are unprepared for college-level courses and must enroll in at least one developmental course (see the article Pathways to Improvement). Currently 27% of incoming California State University students arrive unprepared for college-level mathematics, as noted in the recent CSU Academic Senate Quantitative Reasoning Task Force Report. These staggering numbers illustrate a broader problem of effectiveness of mathematics education in the United States (see the Slate Article, What's Wrong with Math Education in the US). According to the most recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. 15-year old students place 35th out of 64 tested countries in mathematics proficiency.

The Carnegie Foundation programs utilize the growth mindset principles specifically to developmental mathematics in a framework called Productive Persistence. There are several excellent resources on their website, for example:
You can also watch an excellent lecture on productive persistence by Dr. Rachel Beattie
Finally, please explore an excellent website With Math I Can. Watch this emotional video describing importance of students’ mindset in mathematics
and sign this pledge to help every student succeed in math.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


This blog is intended as a resource for STEM faculty interested in applying the new psychology of success and growth mindset in their teaching practices (learn more about the growth mindset on Carol Dweck's Mindset Online) Research demonstrates that
thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed, results in greater academic achievement.
(Source: American Psychological Association)
Very recently, Yeager Group at UT Austin published groundbreaking results suggesting that teaching freshman students so called lay theory, which conveys a message that
challenges in the transition to college are common and improvable and, thus, that early struggles should not suggest a permanent lack of belonging or potential,
improves retention and significantly reduces achievement gap when delivered to entire incoming freshman class. (Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). These results generated national attention with editorials in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

The growth mindset concept is pertinent to specific psychological interventions as well as to a host of teaching methods, advising approaches, institutional policies (such as academic probation) and an overall "institutional culture." There is increasing evidence that growth mindset is key to teaching STEM, as described in this US News & World Reports article. Please follow this blog for resources and insights for learning about and applying growth mindset in higher education.


Thomas Westenholz, the founder of Positive Edge Program, authored a short article on how to use growth mindset to motivate students, including a list of five easy ways to use growth mindset in improving students’ motivation.

Here, I linked each of Westenholz' five “easy ways” to various related on-line resources. Many of these resources would be great to show to your students.
  1. Introduce growth mindset in your classes: TED Talk by Eduardo Briceno, and Carol Dweck speaks at Stanford University.

  2. Use mistakes as a learning opportunity: Celebrate Mistakes, an on-line lesson for teachers

  3. Administer positive praise: A Study on Positive Praise and Mindsets
    Disclaimer: while growth mindset emphasizes “process over product,” praising effort alone or telling students "you can do anything" does not improve performance. Please see an excellent Edutopia article on “false growth mindset.”

  4. Show students examples of past failures: Famous Failures

  5. Help students find value in learning: Trevor Ragan's The Learning Machine


Malcolm Ocean is the founder of a company called “Complice,” advertised as a “startup changing how people relate to their ambition.” He offers an interesting essay on “applied growth mindset”, in which he recognizes the difference between knowing what growth mindset means and using it consistently in your learning. He suggests that applying growth mindset consistently requires practice, which can be done in part by shifting the language you use from fixed to growth mindset.

There are several on-line resources useful to reinforce growth mindset language:
Finally, I encourage you to read an essay by the Lenox Academy Assistant Principal, commenting on the value of building growth mindset culture in schools, and watch the short video below of teachers describing their experiences teaching with a growth mindset program called Brainology.


Growth mindset has a special place in mathematics education.  Fostering growth mindset reduces stereotype threat and can help narrow both racial and gender achievement gaps.  For example, recent PLOS ONE article suggests that gender-dependent decisions to drop out of STEM (following a calculus I class) might be dictated by beliefs rather than abilities.  See also this introduction to stereotype threat on dePaul University's Learning in Progress.

In the November issue of Scientific American, Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, argues that
An emphasis on memorization, rote procedures, and speed impairs learning and achievement in mathematics.  
Dr. Boaler is a cofounder of Youcubed, a company providing large array of growth mindset resources for K-12 teachers - some of them certainly applicable to college-level mathematics.
The video below is an excerpt of an interview with Carol Dweck and Greg Walton in which they discuss some strategies for and effects of encouraging a growth mindset in learners.

Drs. Carol Dweck and Greg Walton talk about Growth Mindset from Character Lab on Vimeo.