A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

Mindset refers to a person’s beliefs about human psychological characteristics. Researchers distinguish between fixed and growth mindsets (Dweck, 2006). A fixed mindset includes the belief that personal qualities are fixed entities. A person with a fixed mindset believes, for example, that people have a certain amount of ability or intelligence that cannot be increased or changed. A growth mindset includes the belief that characteristics can change and develop. Intelligence can be expanded and developed with practice and continual effort.

Students respond differently to challenge, risk, success, failure and setbacks depending on their mindsets. Fixed mindsets are associated with overconfidence [I have a lot of ability so I can do this easily], avoiding challenges, giving up in the face of difficulty [I can’t do it, I must not have the ability], ignoring useful negative feedback, and the belief in effortless perfection. Growth mindsets are associated with a focus on learning and improving, persistence in the face of difficulty, seeking challenges, learning from criticism, and using more strategic learning strategies to improve.     


  1. Promote and model a growth mindset. Use the syllabus to discuss the process of learning in your course, not just the desired outcomes. Discuss the role of effort, tenacity, improvement, getting better, learning strategies, making mistakes, responding to setbacks and disappointment. Refer to your own struggles and difficulties in learning and in developing mastery of a subject or skills.

  2. Adopt grading practices that support a growth mindset. Use guidelines and rubrics that clearly convey the criteria and standards for student learning. Avoid posting grade distributions or information that highlights student performance relative to classmates.  

  3. Give feedback that supports a growth mindset. Give feedback that highlights student improvement and effort. Focus on giving accurate information about where students are in relation to the goal and what they need to do to improve. If you provide advice or guidance, try to be specific about strategies that can help the student improve. Try not to give feedback that highlights student ability because it supports a fixed mindset, e.g., "I did well because I'm smart, talented, or good at this subject."

  4. Give wise feedback. Well intentioned teachers sometimes give disingenuous feedback that overvalues or compliments substandard work. Students recognize this and may start to distrust or disregard feedback from teachers. Wise feedback is a strategy for giving feedback to students whose work is subpar. It includes two elements: 1) accurate information about the gap between the student's performance and the standard, and 2) a statement about the reason for the feedback that focuses on the belief that the students CAN improve and the best way to do so is to have accurate information about one's current performance.

Tips to Implement Changes to Mindset Effectively

  • Remember that students' mindsets are formed over time and influenced by a variety of factors including previous experiences of success/failure, praise and feedback from parents/teachers, and observations of others. Changing a student's mindset does not always happen easily or quickly, and may take several attempts.

  • It is also important to remember that neither type of mindset (fixed or growth) is necessarily "correct" or "more right" than the other. (The distinction parallels the "nature vs. nurture" debate in psychology, for which there is evidence to support both sides.) Nonetheless, it is important to recognize how such beliefs impact students' motivation and behaviors. The more one gravitates towards having a fixed mindset (i.e., the nature side of the argument), the less likely he/she is to exhibit effort or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Successful intervention may be less about completely changing a student's mindset and more about shifting his/her beliefs to be further down the continuum toward a more flexible, growth mindset (or simply encouraging them to focus more on nurture/environmental influences, or factors that can be changed or controlled). 



  • Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Cerbin, W. & Marshik, T. (2015). Mindset. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://www.uwlax.edu/catl/teaching-guides/teaching-improvement-guide/how-can-i-improve/mindset/.