A student who has a growth mindset believes that their intelligence is not fixed and that, through effective learning strategies, they can improve and achieve. Logically, this should mean that they know how to study effectively and will choose the best strategies.
But does this belief actually lead to these students seeking out and using the most effective learning strategies?
A Fascinating Growth Mindset and Revision Study
An interesting research study examined whether students with a growth mindset revised differently compared to those who didn’t. They found that the techniques they employed to learn the material differed significantly. Specifically, they found that “individuals who believe that intelligence can be increased through effort were more likely to value pedagogical benefits of self-testing, to restudy and to be intrinsically motivated to learn”.
What does this mean, then? Here are the three characteristics of a studying growth mindset:
Understanding the Importance of Self-Testing
Testing oneself during revision (which is known as retrieval practice) is one of the most effective strategies students can use to learn new information when revising. This is because requiring students to recall previously learnt content leads to the creation of stronger memory traces, which increases the likelihood of information being transferred to the long-term memory store and hence accurately recalled at a later date.
Some great ways of using the power of retrieval practice include:
- Completing past papers
- Using flashcards
- Quick, low stakes quizzes
- Answering questions in class
Knowing the Value of Re-studying
There is an important difference between being familiar with the material and really knowing it. This is why it is important to regularly revisit information, as each time students revisit the information stronger memory traces are created, increasing the likelihood that the content will be remembered. This is often referred to as ‘spacing out revision’ and is based on the principle that, when it comes to revision, a little but often is better than a lot all at once.
Developing Intrinsic Motivations
The aforementioned research found that those who have a growth mindset are more intrinsic in their motivations to learn. This type of motivation is more robust and reliable under pressure. It is more likely to lead to long term resilience and help foster independent learning. Motivation can be a tricky concept for educators to help students develop, so if you want to read more we’d recommend our three-part blog series about what motivates someone.
How Can Students Develop a Growth Mindset?
The researchers in the early study conclude by saying that “a growth mindset though, must be combined with knowing how to learn, including knowing that certain difficulties can be desirable”. So how can teachers help students start on the right foot and develop a growth mindset?
The Use of Questioning
Asking questions can help improve both metacognition and mindset. One of our favourite questions in this area is “What would I do differently next time?”. This helps students stop dwelling on the past by giving them a sense of control over their situation, whilst also facilitating the opportunity to identify and focus on what they need to improve upon in the future.
If teachers want to improve their students’ mindset, they need to carefully consider the type of praise they offer as more is not always better. In one particular study, giving students process praise e.g. “you did really well; you must have tried really hard” led to students developing a growth mindset, such that they showed higher levels of resilience and effort. However, when students were offered person praise such as “you are so clever”, they were more likely to develop a fixed mindset, where they learnt to blame failure on a lack of ability and avoided trying new strategies for fear of looking "stupid".
A Learning Environment
When students view their success and failure in very black or white terms, they can experience an increase in both stress and pressure. Therefore, creating a supportive environment in which all students are taught that failure is a necessary part of the learning process can help students to develop a growth mindset by reducing pessimism, increasing self-esteem and preventing them from avoiding challenging tasks.
Recent research has shown that student success in exams is not only determined by the revision strategies they employ but also their mindset. The two appear to go hand in hand.
Developing a growth mindset by praising students in an intelligent way and encouraging students to question themselves and view failure as a learning experience is key to helping them engage in more metacognitively sophisticated learning habits. These include understanding the importance of self-testing, always re-studying previously learnt material and developing intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations.