Fostering a Growth Mindset

Thanks to Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s influential research, we now know that the types of praise we use with children can influence their beliefs about learning and intelligence—whether intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed (a fixed mindset) or if through effort and hard work you can improve your intelligence (a growth mindset). Each type of mindset affects not only students’ motivation to learn but also their success and achievement in school. In Dweck’s research, a growth mindset about learning mathematics has been positively associated with higher achievement in mathematics.

Many people may feel that they are not good at math or that they can’t ever get better at math. They may say, “Oh, I’m not a math person” but this really reflects a fixed mindset around math. Early childhood educators can nurture children’s mathematical mindsets and help foster a love of learning. All children can succeed in mathematics given strong instruction and a positive attitude toward learning.

Watch a video

Boosting Messages from how to Learn Math with Jo Boaler.

This short video discusses the link between growth mindset and mathematics learning. Check out Jo Boaler’s “Youcubed” website, available for free, to find tons of resources related to math and mindset, at

Teacher Reflection

Do you believe that intelligence is a fixed trait that you are born with a certain amount of it and it cannot be changed (fixed mindset)?

Or, do you believe that intelligence is a quality that can be developed through effort and education (growth mindset)?

Classroom Connection

The Little Engine That Could

“I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—…” says the little engine as she chugs up the hill to deliver toys to the children on the other side of the mountain. This classic children’s book is a great jumping off point for a discussion about the role of effort and persistence in accomplishing things that are hard for us. Read The Little Engine That Could to your class and have discussions about the role of effort. Spoiler alert: The little engine makes it!

The mantra “I think I can” may be helpful to children as they try to accomplish a challenging task (zipper my coat, open my milk, ride a bike).

Toward the end of the day or at a closing circle time, ask the children, “Did you work hard at something today?” Teachers can note what children are attempting to do during the day and share anecdotes of trying challenging things with the class.