False Growth Mindset Explained

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 27 September, 2021

In her updated book, Carol Dweck urges people to be wary of unintentionally nurturing a false growth mindset rather than the real thing. More specifically, Carol expresses her concern about 2 distinct but interrelated things – a misunderstanding about:

What a growth mindset is

How to nurture a growth mindset

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities. It’s that simple.

carol dweck

What then is a false growth mindset?

A false growth mindset involves someone taking an admirable quality they possess and labelling it as a growth mindset.

Carol talks about being open to new ideas and being adaptable as two common qualities involved in false growth mindsets.

The benefits of having a genuine growth mindset are that it primes you to:

Relish the challenge of developing your abilities

Do the hard work needed to develop your abilities

In contrast, relying on personal qualities is akin to adopting the fixed mindset.

false growth mindset traits

4 Ways to Nurture a False Growth Mindset

Use Labels in Praise

When used well, praise can reinforce desirable behaviours such as effort. Yet, if you praise the wrong thing, you are nurturing a false growth mindset.

The most common example of such perilous praise involves praising abilities rather than actions. Comments such as you are so creative, smart, sporty … are not helpful.

Praise Mediocre Effort

A fundamental tenet of the growth mindset is that you can increase your intelligence through hard work. So, it makes sense to praise your students for working hard.

Yet, you should only praise genuine effort. If you praise your students for lackluster effort, you nurture a false growth mindset where working hard doesn’t matter.

Only Praise Effort

In her book Mindset, Carol is clear that teachers can nurture a growth mindset by reinforcing behaviours that lead to learning. Hard work or effort is a critical behaviour that you should reinforce. However, effort is not the only behaviour that you should encourage.

Sometimes trying harder is not enough. You should also encourage your students to:

Try a different approach when what they are doing isn’t working

Ask for help when they cannot understand or do something on their own

Ignore Achievement!

While praising the process (effort, trying new approaches, asking for help) is a key part of nurturing a growth mindset, it only one side of the coin. You must also link those things to your students’ academic performance.

When asked what keeps her up at night, Carol responded:

It’s the fear that the mindset concept will be used to make kids feel good when they’re not learning—just like the failed self-esteem movement

carol dweck

When students are not learning, you can acknowledge their genuine efforts. However, this should not be done a consolation prize. For example, you didn’t do well on your math test, but you tried hard and that’s what matters.

Rather, to avoid a false growth mindset, you need help them redirect their efforts until their learning improves.

You should also help them to link achievement and the processes they used when they have performed well.

You nurture a false growth mindset by focusing on processes without linking them to achievement levels
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(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

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