“Fixed Mindset” about Student Ability Inhibits Learning Experiences in the Classroom

Educators have often heard of the “Growth Mindset” psychology introduced by the well-known Dr. Carol Dweck. The purpose of her research was to understand how people cope with failing. Dweck suggests that people who give up easily and avoid challenging activities are experiencing a “fixed mindset.” They are stagnant in their learning process and refuse to continue because they have the belief that they can’t be successful. Dweck introduces the benefits of encouraging students and all individuals to adapt to the growth mindset.

I was first introduced to Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset research during my undergrad. I had never heard anything like it before, and it truly changed the way I thought about teaching and living my life! I used to think to myself that I hated running, and I would never be good at it. When I was in middle school, I was usually the last student to cross the finish line at PE. It is safe to say I had developed a fixed mindset about running. Since I had this stationary mindset, I never put myself in situations where I would have to run long distances. After reading Dweck’s research, I decided to change my mindset about running to see what would happen. I began to put myself in more situations where I would run. I told myself that I may not be good at running now, but I can always grow and get better at running. Four months later, I finished my first half-marathon in Savannah, Georgia.

Crossing the finish line at the Savannah Half-Marathon

Understandably, this research became personal to my life. I now think of the world as a place full of growth opportunities. When I became a teacher, I also taught my students about this research so that they wouldn’t give up when things got hard. I showed my students the effects of a fixed mindset and the opportunities they would experience if they developed a growth mindset.

While you can have a fixed and growth mindset about your personal life, I believe you can also develop a fixed and growth mindset about the ability of others around you. There is a problem right now in education where teachers are preventing instructional experiences because they have a fixed mindset of their students’ ability. I am guilty of this and have heard educators say,

My students would never be able to handle that activity.”

“You don’t understand the group that I have this year.”

“Only the gifted kids could do something like this.”

“I can’t do things like that for my kids because I am spending so much time managing their behavior.”

When I first started teaching, I heard these statements from other teachers around me and slowly started to believe them myself. I was projecting a fixed ability onto my students. At the beginning of this school year, I decided to change my mindset again. Except for this time, my mindset would not be about my own success. I decided to perceive my students’ capability to learn with the growth mindset.

If we have a “fixed mindset” about the ability of our students, we will be less likely to give them experiences and opportunities that are challenging, thought-provoking, and interactive.

If we develop a “growth mindset” about the ability of our students, we will be more likely to give them opportunities to learn in innovative, engaging, and academically challenging ways.

I believe our current fixed mindset about low-achieving students is inhibiting their experiences in the classroom. I challenge you to give more innovative learning opportunities to low-achieving students. If you notice that your low-achieving students are not doing the task, I want us to consider that maybe it is our assignment that is the issue and not the students’ ability. That is really hard for me to hear sometimes because I work so hard creating assignments for my students.

This past week I taught my inclusion Math class how to use Google Forms. They collected data, analyzed the data, and formed conclusions about statistical questions that they were curious about. I gave them an opportunity to learn from application instead of direct-instruction. I changed my mindset and believed that they were capable of learning this way. The results of providing this opportunity for my students showed an increase in engagement and achievement.

6th Grade Student Statistics Report Work Sample

I challenge you to change your mindset about the ability of your students. Think of what they could achieve if you give them more opportunities to learn in innovative ways. If you decide to try a new activity with some of your low-achieving students, please share with me on the blog or via twitter.


Click here to read Dr. Carol Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.

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