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The benefits of a growth mindset

Research summary & links to further information about the benefits of having a growth mindset.


Mindset can play a big role in people’s achievement in maths. And, in maths, learners often have more of a fixed view of their abilities than they do with other skills.

Until fairly recently, the ‘fixed’ brain was a commonly-held belief – but advances in science have revealed just how flexible the brain is. The terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’ are now commonly used in education settings as a way of thinking about how people’s beliefs affect their learning.

People with a fixed mindset believe that maths ability is simply a fixed trait that can’t be changed. Those with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be developed and improved. Studies have shown that those with a fixed mindset are at a disadvantage compared to those with a growth mindset. In fact, having a growth mindset encourages learners to practise their skills more and so to achieve at a higher level.

Educators and parents have a big influence on the mindsets that learners develop. Where students are praised for their intelligence or talent, they are more likely to believe that their ability is innate and is something they can’t change. This can lead to learners avoiding challenging tasks and losing motivation when things get difficult. Equally, if someone is told that they are not a ‘maths person’ this also promotes a fixed mindset.

Praising learners for effort or strategy, however, leads them to seek out and thrive on challenging activities. It helps them understand that mistakes are not a sign of failure but are all a part of the learning process.

In this way, the mindset of the educator themselves has an impact. If an educator believes that abilities cannot change, they are likely to pass this belief on to the learners they work with. Encouraging all learners to believe that they can improve their skills is an important part of supporting learners with numeracy.


Links to more information on mindsets

This paper by Carol Dweck gives an overview of the key research around mindsets and maths and gives recommendations for how educators can convey a growth mindset to learners: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/sites/default/files/dweck_2008_mindsets_and_math-science_achievement.pdf

Explore tips on how to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset on this website: http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html

This academic report looks at mathematical resilience: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/sites/default/files/wrap_johnston_aera_paper.pdf