Teaching Grit: The Growth Mindset vs. The Fixed Mindset

John Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, wrote a piece for the Globe this week titled The Truth About Grit. The article highlights some important findings of studies done by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University.The findings suggest that personality traits like grit, rather than standardized measurements of intelligence, are far more likely to predict real world achievement. The studies further suggest that when teaching a growth mindset (effort and persistence) is emphasized in the classroom, students perform far better than when when they are simply praised for their intelligence and abilities…

While researchers have long focused on measurements of intelligence, such as the IQ test, as the crucial marker of future success, these scientists point out that most of the variation in individual achievement – what makes one person successful, while another might struggle – has nothing to do with being smart. Instead, it largely depends on personality traits such as grit and conscientiousness. It’s not that intelligence isn’t really important – Newton was clearly a genius – but that having a high IQ is not nearly enough…

In recent decades, the American educational system has had a single-minded focus on raising student test scores on everything from the IQ to the MCAS. The problem with this approach, researchers say, is that these academic scores are often of limited real world relevance. However, the newfound importance of personality traits such as grit raises an obvious question: Can grit be learned?…

While Duckworth and others are quick to point out that there is no secret recipe for increasing grit – “We’ve only started to study this, so it’s too soon to begin planning interventions,” she cautions – there’s a growing consensus on what successful interventions might look like.

One of the most important elements is teaching kids that talent takes time to develop, and requires continuous effort. Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, refers to this as a “growth mindset.” She compares this view with the “fixed mindset,” the belief that achievement results from abilities we are born with. “A child with the fixed mindset is much more likely to give up when they encounter a challenging obstacle, like algebra, since they assume that they’re just not up to the task,” says Dweck.

In a recent paper, Dweck and colleagues demonstrated that teaching at-risk seventh-graders about the growth mindset – this included lessons about the importance of effort – led to significantly improved grades for the rest of middle school. Interestingly, it also appears that praising children for their intelligence can make them less likely to persist in the face of challenges, a crucial element of grit.


  1. August 5, 2009 at 10:51 am ·

    This post got me thinking about the harsh reality that even though my Mother told me over and over how smart I was growing up, I've now realized that there are a lot of people a hell of a lot smarter than me. What will set me apart now is not my Mother confirmed intelligence by my willingness to succeed and my persistence to that end.
    Thanks a lot for the wake up call jerk, I was happy with just making Mom happy.
    Back to work.

    • August 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm ·

      Haha. That made me smile huge.

  2. vadadean
    August 5, 2009 at 11:30 am ·

    My biggest success lessons happened on the basketball court and the wrestling mat. Sacrifice, determination, effort, and teamwork were quickly rewarded with victory. Once addicted to victory, grit was a given.

    • August 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm ·

      There's a lot to be said for the value of sports in the education process. I learned similar lessons in competitive swimming and waterpolo from high school through post grad. Learning to train and push yourself physically and mentally makes a huge difference to your attitude towards everything else in life.

  3. teacherinchina
    October 31, 2009 at 6:15 pm ·

    Fellow teacher, enjoyed your blog.

  4. teacherinchina
    November 1, 2009 at 12:15 am ·

    Fellow teacher, enjoyed your blog.