Distance Learning Support

What is "growth mindset" and "productive struggle?"

Growth Mindset is an important concept about a person's belief in learning and intelligence. This idea comes from the research of Stanford University Psychology professor Carol Dweck, published in her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success."

There are two primary ideas about intelligence, one being a fixed mindset ("I am smart" or "I'm not good at math") or a growth mindset ("I don't understand this, yet, but I can practice it and learn it, and get better.") There is a lot of discussion and information on the web about the power of helping students (and adults!) think about their mindsets and make sure they are in a growth mindset.

An important way that we can help students with their mindsets is in the words that we use with them. If we praise a child for being "smart" and getting the answer correct, we are giving them praise for something that they likely feel they have little control over. Students will either feel they are "smart" or "dumb". They are either good at math, or they are not.

If, on the other hand, we give them praise for their effort, or their tenacity in sticking with a difficult problem, we are telling them that we are valuing things that they can control. A student can't just become "smarter", but they can stick to a problem and build their tenacity.

An important word to use with students (and adults!) is "yet". When a student is frustrated and says they can't do something, they are in a fixed mindset. By simply adding the word "yet", "I can't do this, yet." they have shifted to a growth mindset. Here is a great article on the power of "yet" ,complete with a Sesame Street video, that helps explain the importance of the words we use and the power of a growth mindset:


Productive Struggle is a concept that goes hand and hand with Growth Mindset. The idea is that learning happens where we are struggling with a new concept. If something is easy for us, we are not doing much new learning. There is significant brain research that discusses how struggling actually helps to build stronger connections between neurons and helps a students brain physically change and become more effective and efficient. Here is a good article that discusses the brain science behind the importance of productive struggle:


Below is an article that discusses the importance of combining the concepts of growth mindsets and productive struggle and how it can be hard for parents to not want to "over-parent" as they are trying to help their child deal with these challenging concepts: