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Creating the Optimal "Internal" Learning Environment

learning environmentsIn her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University tells us that there are essentially two mindsets with which we approach life: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

  • A person with a fixed mindset views their intelligence, talents and abilities as fixed and unchanging. As a result, those with this mindset protect themselves from failure by avoiding new experiences and challenges.
  • A person with a growth mindset sees him or herself as fluid and changing. They see their lives as full of opportunity and personal growth.

According to Dweck, even the very brightest students, if they have fixed mindsets, may "avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty." On the other hand, the less bright students—if they have a growth mindset—can be "the real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected."¹

So how can we cultivate growth-oriented mindsets in our students? In a recent interview, Dweck suggested a number of practical ideas that we can employ every day in the classroom:

  • Teach students to think of their brain as a muscle that strengthens with use, and have them visualize the brain forming new connections every time they learn.
  • When teaching study skills, convey to students that using these methods will help their brains learn better.
  • Discourage use of labels that convey intelligence as a fixed entity.
  • Praise students’ effort, strategies, and progress, not their intelligence. Praising intelligence leads students to fear challenges and makes them feel less intelligent when they have difficulty.
  • Give students challenging work. Teach them that challenging activities are fun and that mistakes help them learn.²

For further reading, check out Carol S. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Web Resources:


¹ Education World®: School Issues and Education News: Wire Side Chats: How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success? 2/4/10
² Chen, Milton. " Smart Talking: Tell Students to Feed Their Brains.”

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