Mindsets in the Classroom

What Are They, and How Do They Affect the Classroom?

Welcome to our summer book study!
We really hope that you will join in and link up with us as we share our take on this great professional resource!

Let's get started!

Chapter 1 is all about what mindsets are and how they make an impact in the classroom.  I have often thought about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the classroom, but this books took me to a different level describing the two different mindsets, growth and fixed.

The belief system that asserts that intelligence is malleable and can be developed is called  growth mindset.  Interestingly, 100% of kindergartners entering school have a growth mindset.  This number drops significantly over a student's first few years, with the notable drop from 82% to 58%, between second and third grade!  Kids come to school believing that they can and will learn and they begin soaking up everything that we expose them to.  But then what happens?

Students with a growth mindset believe that they can learn just about anything.  Even though challenging, with effort and perseverance they can succeed.  The focus of this mindset is on learning, not looking smart.

However, students with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is something that you are born with and that the level of intelligence cannot be changed.  For students who struggle or don't think that they are smart, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They often give up and do not put forth much effort.  For those who view themselves as "smart," they can become focused on "looking smart" at all costs and avoid taking risks where they feel they may not succeed.  These are the kiddos who seem to coast through school without putting forth much effort, but are praised for their good grades.  They are high achievers who blame outside influences when they "fail" at a task.

A child's mindset directly affects how he or she faces academic challenges.

What does this mean in the classroom?

According to Malcom Gladwell, "It turns out that summer vacation is a massive disadvantage for poorer kids.  Richer kids get a lot of help over the summer.  Their homes are filled with books and things that advance their knowledge; they go to camp and have all these other activities.  But a poorer family can't do that.  To improve that, we as a society would have to provide it in the first place.  During the school year, poor kids actually outlearn richer kids.  Then they stall over the summer."

Our society has become one that values pace.  The faster the better.  But we need to really think about the fact that it is not about how fast students master learning.  It's about the persistence and effort they put forth.  Personally, I think that is what the common core standards are aiming for; depth and perseverance rather than rote and speed.

The good news?  Mindset can be shifted!  Recent brain research negates the notion that intelligence is fixed from birth.  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt and "rewire" itself throughout our entire lives.

We as educators, need to begin as early as possible to instill a growth mindset in our students so that they will continue to believe that the can and will succeed.  Talk to your students about brain research and teach them that their intelligence is not predetermined.  Teach them that their effort and persistence are what will enable them to succeed.  Believe in them.  Encourage them.  And most importantly, make sure that you embrace a growth mindset in your classroom.


Click on the image below to download a PDF version of the chapter 1 summary. (I also included the Perseverance and Keep Going signs.)  Then share you views about the book on your blog and link up with us.


  1. What is your hypothesis about why Kindergarteners know they can learn and by 3rd grade they tend to have a fixed mindset? What can we do about it at our own school?

  2. I found it very interesting about what teachers thought an IQ test measured. It's not their capability, but their developed ability. I often see that stigma tied to some of my students. They have a low IQ and therefore they will always have a low IQ. I have seen many students jump in IQ by 40 points or more!

    I too would like to know the answer to the question of what can be done to change the mindset to a growth one throughout all of our grades within our school.

  3. I love that the resounding idea behind this mindshift/strategy is seeing the positive in our students and focusing on their effort. Unfortunately, we tend to get so caught up in mastery (and mastery that is quick) that we overlook what each individual student has put into his/her work. When the author talked about students who had a fixed mindset; I could so picture some of my students. It really helped me understand their behaviors.

    I thought the study over K-3 grades was very interesting. When the kids come into Kindergarten they are so excited about school and learning (for the most part ;-) Starting Kindergarten is such a big deal and milestone. Parents, teachers, schools, even society hype it up so much. Kids are told about how much they are GOING to learn and how great it will be. Most kids buy into it and really believe in it.

    By the time kids get to 3rd grade we have sorted and separated them. Skills are becoming harder and we are throwing multiple skills at them at a rapid pace. I think they begin to feel bogged down and stressed with all of that. Then we start hitting them with major tests that, a lot of times, contain skills they haven't been taught yet. I think that they begin to feel defeated which, in turn, causes them to display a fixed mindset.

    Jen, in answer to your question...I think taking the focus off of testing would be a good place to start. Also, trying to make learning more fun and interactive. Now, saying that I know that it is easier said than done, and in a perfect world education runs smoothly and we have ample time to do fun and exciting things. I don't know. I don't feel I have been at it long enough to give any really profound advice.

    For me, I want to really try and focus on the positive and the potential in all my kids. I want them to see how great they are and to believe in themselves.

  4. I think part of the change comes with the child becoming more aware of others around them and comparing their self to others. They understand that others may learn or understand ideas faster than they do and associate that with being smart and being able to understand something. They are quick to stick to that I'm not smart because I don't understand it as quickly as others and therefore start facilitating the fixed mentality.

    1. This is a good point. It is up to the school to retrain this thinking in kids.

  5. I agree with the author's closing comments in Chapter 1 that educators and children must accept the belief that ALL students can succeed!!! With effort and perseverance, all students can demonstrate growth. We must continue to encourage this growth mindset as students move through school!

  6. The very first line of the chapter really stuck with me. "Look at her paper- she's the smart one!"
    It sticks with me and really makes me think because that has happened many times in my classes over the years. We work on positivity and believing that YOU CAN all throughout the year but it still happens. "Their smarter than me so they'll get a better grade." While I encouraged my kiddos to support one another and compliment I wanted so badly for them to have that belief in themselves. That they were also the smart one!
    It's scary (and very sad) how many students have a fixed mindset in place by the time they reach 3rd. We've got to really show our students that perseverance pays off. That they can "get it". Maybe not right when everyone else does but in their own time they will grow!

  7. Some children need adults to believe in them before they can believe in themselves. Love that 100% of the K students came in with a growth mindset. I think that giving students phrases such as "I can try", when faced with difficult tasks can help with keeping them from developing a fixed mindset.

    1. This goes along with those mini posters you gave me at the end of school! You are already training kids in the Growth Mindset!

  8. There were a few ideas that really stuck out to me as being factors for why students develop a fixed mindset by third grade. (Educator impact, "smart kid" problems, and fast pace)
    I first thought about the part that said that educators need to have the belief that all students can grow with effort and hard work from the learners. Therefore all students deserve opportunities for challenge through teachers being armed with instructional tools for differentiation, critical thinking processes and nurturing student needs. I began to reflect upon what do I say to students during the learning process and do I give them the tools they need to grow?
    For those "smart kids" I think I have let them have a pretty easy road in the past. I don't know that I have challenged them enough or gave them opportunities to struggle the way their brains needed. I can think of at least one student from every year that I've taught who really skated by easily through my class. He/she thinking they were brilliant and the rest of the class would agree. So I will take this as a challenge for this year to really dig deeper into differentiation, critical thinking processes and nurturing individual student's needs.
    Finally, the part about pace really stuck out to me as significant. I know I set timers that tell students that everyone is expected to be finished at the same time. I set timers for everything in my classroom, because I want the class moving and progressing at a steady rate. I think this is where the biggest shift has been from when I taught first grade to now being in third grade. I provided more time for first graders to struggle/persevere with the material and gave them more opportunities for physically acting on their learning than I did with third graders last year. Perhaps that fast pace and expectation of mastering multiple skills at a time has contributed to the development of a fixed mindset.
    So, I think that teacher mindset, labels (high, on level, approaching), and overly demanding pace are the biggest contributors to the shift of students to a fixed mindset by third grade. In my classroom, I can try to adjust the pace of learning to meet the needs of everyone. I can also be more deliberate in the differentiation that I plan for students in order to meet everyone's needs.

  9. I posted my first three comments in the wrong chapter so I am reposting one of them here. Sorry...
    Page 9: "We need to step back, take a breath, and realize that it is not about how fast students master learning. It is about the persistence and effort that they put forth."

    This is true for the students and the teachers. We need to always keep in mind that some students take longer to master a skill, but this doesn't define who they are, or what type of learner they are. If they are truly giving it their all, asking questions, and taking time to practice that to me, as an educators, tells me that student is trying to learn and is capable of achieving that skill.

  10. Wow! Chapter 1 has got my wheels turning... how can I keep all of my 1st graders excitement and passion to learn instilled in them, and establish a growth mindset from day one. 1st graders arrive every year with a spirit they can learn anything and I want to make sure this spirit continues on.