Use your syllabus and opening classes to promote a growth mindset among students

Use your syllabus and opening classes to promote a growth mindset among students

In contrast to a fixed mindset, or a belief that intelligence is innate and “fixed” from birth, a growth mindset asserts that knowledge and skills can be developed, or “grown,” through effort and practice over time. Studies have shown that students with a growth mindset are more likely to be motivated and engaged and to persist through learning challenges. As an instructor, you can promote a growth mindset in your classes through:

  • your course design
  • the tone of your syllabus
  • how you present feedback and study strategies
  • how you frame learning challenges, mistakes, or failure

While there are many moments throughout the term in which you can promote a growth mindset, your course syllabus and opening class sessions provide significant opportunity for you to introduce students to how a growth mindset can support their learning and academic success.

As you create or review your course syllabus, here are some key features to consider through a growth mindset lens:

  • Course description: How does this description invite students into a learning journey that is achievable and relevant to them?
  • Learning outcomes: What should students know and be able to do by the end of the course—and what opportunities will they have to progressively build knowledge and practice necessary skills?
  • Assessment: Does the course assessment plan include enough low-stakes activities or assignments so that students can receive plenty of practice and feedback? How will students be encouraged to learn from their mistakes or failures?
  • Recommended academic support resources: How are students urged to ask questions, seek help, and take advantage of resources like office hours, study sessions, tutoring, the writing center, or library services?

In addition, you may find it useful to include on your syllabus an explicit statement about the importance of a growth mindset and/or to spend a few minutes talking about this with your students on the first day of class.

For more information about the importance of a growth mindset, the research supporting this, and strategies for communicating this to students, see the MIT Teaching + Learning Lab’s page on Growth Mindset and their blog post Meaning Makers: cultivating growth mindset environments.