Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Promote a growth mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck, cognitive psychologist and leading expert on “mindset,” describes growth mindset as “the understanding that we can develop our abilities and intelligence.” The opposite is a fixed mindset, where intelligence is seen as unchangeable. A student who claims, “I’m just bad at math,” would be demonstrating a fixed mindset, whereas a student who says, “I can strengthen my math skills through practice,” would be advocating a growth mindset. Training at-risk or underrepresented students on growth mindset has a positive effect on their GPAs and persistence in school (Paunesku et al., 2015, Yeager et al., 2016). With a growth mindset, all students see learning more as a process and can claim ownership and control over their learning, which can lead to greater academic success. As an instructor, there are many opportunities for you to advocate for a growth mindset:

  • Emphasize the productive opportunities of failure. This can take different forms:
    • Tell your students of your own struggles in the classroom or with your research.
    • Have students earn credit by going to one (or several) office hours with questions that they have on the material.
    • Use the “muddiest point” activity at the end of class: have students write 1 or 2 questions they still have about the material. By doing this regularly, you show students that you expect everyone to have questions.
  • Give students the opportunity to practice the core skills of the class and work with the course material through low-stakes assignments or quizzes.
    • “This exercise is meant to give you an opportunity to practice X skills. If you do not get it right on the first try, do not despair: it means that you are in the process of learning.”
    • When going over homework or exams: “Many of you ran into trouble at [this point] in [problem X]. This is very normal. Let’s go over it together so you can see how to recognize and work through this kind of problem.”
  • Question and challenge your own fixed mindset practices related to beliefs about your students as well as your own learning and intelligence. Consider what you can do to help students who are struggling with the material.
  • Model growth mindset practices yourself, by being open to feedback from your students and being transparent in your efforts to improve (ask for an Eberly Early Course Feedback Survey or Focus Group to collect this information)

Learn more about an Early Course Feedback session with Eberly.


Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success (Ballantine Books trade pbk. ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Paunesku, D.; Walton, G.M.; Romero, C.; Smith, E.N.; Yeager, D.S.; Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mind-Set Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement. Psychological Science 26, 784-793.

Yeager, D. S. et al. (2016). Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale. PNAS 113(24): E3341–E3348.

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