Are we creating fixed mindset learners with our teaching styles?

Posted by Laura on Nov 3, 2015

I enjoyed watching the video of the presentation by Professor Carol Dweck on Teaching a Growth Mindset. This particular video sparked my interest as “growth mindset” is a phrase I have heard being thrown around at my current school for the last year or so and was intrigued to find out more.

I thought Carols ideas about there being two different kinds of mindset, fixed and growth, very interesting. Similarly I found Skemp’s premise of there being two different kinds of mathematics and teaching mathematics initially eye-opening, but also quite obvious once I had stopped to think for a little while.

Initially I found it difficult to find a link between the two pieces however, I found myself thinking perhaps there can be a link drawn between how we are teaching, i.e. whether or not we are teaching instrumentally or relationally, and what kind of minds are created during these sessions.

I read Skemp’s piece after having watched the video and found myself reading descriptors of teachers and learners in both styles and without realising making connections of “that sounds like fixed mindset” and “that sounds like growth mindset”

Dweck makes the point that our mindset is greatly influenced by the praise we receive from an early age and that effort based praise is more likely to produce a growth mindset whereas intelligence based praise is more likely to produce a fixed mindset. While I believe this is true, I believe that how we teach can also have an impact.

When Skemp speaks of instrumental maths many of the qualities of this style that are listed lean towards the learning style of a fixed mindset student. Simple processes that are followed and repeated that almost always give the correct answer with no real understanding of how and why the process works necessary to get the final answer. In contrast, Skemp describes those who teach and experience relational understanding in a way more similar to students who would be said to have a growth mindset. This is those who are willing to be patient in their problem solving and want to understand how and why a process work to gain better knowledge not only of how those specific problems work, but of how they link in with other areas of mathematics.

As Skemp states “Well is the enemy of better” and while those with fixed mindset will be content with doing well, those with growth mindset strive to o better, to go further, to push understanding.

I think the ideas of teaching relational mathematics and promoting growth mindset in our classroom have great merit however, they are sure to come across some hurdles. One of the major downfalls of our current curriculum in my opinion is that there are so many topics to teach in the time given that often there is little time for more than instrumental understanding as often teaching relationally can take more time. Growth mindset also has it’s issues as I have seen first hand students who given the opportunity and the explanation of the theories behind growth mindset and what it can do for them still are disinclined to take part and embrace it. Is there really anything we can do for those who are contented with doing the minimum just to get by, who wont put in the extra effort and see where it gets them?


  1. Rhys
    8 November 2015

    Great use of quotes to back up your writing, also good to see the relationship between Skemp and Dweck as they are two different things but can be related. I like how you have looked at both the pros and cons of Skemps ideas and how the Curriculum today may not be best suited for relational teaching due to there being to much content for teachers to get through.

  2. Emma
    8 November 2015

    I like the explicit link that you have made between the article and the video. I also appreciate the way you have written this piece as a thought process through which the reader can follow the path you explored before arriving at your argument. I agree with your final paragraph, however I wonder if relational learning was introduced at an earlier age, that half the battle might be won prior to the start of secondary school?

  3. pepsmccrea
    9 November 2015

    Good to see you digging into these important issues, and staring to look at the downsides of the arguments presented. In fact, I’d like to see more of that in future thinkpieces – you looking at both sides of the story in a deeper way so you can reach a considered conclusion.

  4. Kkay
    9 November 2015

    That was a good analysis. Quite plausible questions and links with what you are experiencing everyday at your school. Great read

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