The Growth Mindset: Our Science-Based Approach to Tutoring

Much of the leading research in education right now focuses on the growth mindset. Standford psychology professor Carol Dweck created the term to distinguish students who seek challenge and development from those who believe intelligence is fixed. Over her 30 years studying mindsets, Dweck has found that the growth mindset affects all areas of our lives, resulting in better outcomes not only in school but also in careers and relationships.  

Believing we can learn and improve over time, her studies have found, is a better marker of success than any fixed trait. That’s why developing this mindset—and working with educators who cultivate it—is so essentail.

More About the Mindsets

If you find yourself getting a bad grade in a math class and thinking, “I’m just not good at math” or “I guess I’m not smart enough,” that’s the sign of a fixed mindset. If, on the other hand, you look at the bad grade and think, “I better put in some extra time” or “This class is a real challenge—I must be learning a lot,” your mindset is focused on growth.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Dweck describes the mindsets:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

Her website, Mindsetworks , visualizes the mindsets:

Info-Graphic showing the qualities of Growth vs Fixed Mindset
Info-Graphic showing the qualities of Growth vs Fixed Mindset

Essentially, growth-minded students believe they can learn anything with enough effort, while fixed-mindset students believe their intelligence and abilities were allotted at birth.

Why does all this matter?

As Dweck puts it: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”

Your mindset shapes your life. Which means it matters a lot. The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset can be the difference between success in a class or in school itself. Not to mention your career or relationships. It transforms challenges into opportunities and mistakes into learning. It means you can always continue to grow.

The Growth Mindset encourages commitment and hard work leading to higher achievement
The Growth Mindset encourages commitment and hard work leading to higher achievement

Throughout her decades of research, Dweck has found the growth mindset to be correlated with higher achievement in all areas. In one study with 373 seventh graders, she found an intervention teaching the growth mindset to students increased their math grades even as their peers’ grades suffered.

Student performance improves with growth mindset intervention
Student performance improves with growth mindset intervention

Inversely, she found that praising students for intelligence (a fixed-mindset practice) resulted in students completing significantly fewer difficult problems than peers who were praised for effort (a growth-mindset practice). Simply focusing praise on trying hard inspired students to embrace challenges, ultimately learning more.

Encouraging hard work leads to better outcomes in student performance
Encouraging hard work leads to better outcomes in student performance

As she explains in her TEDTalk, the growth mindset results in more mental activity, growing your brain through challenge. Increasingly, companies are hiring for this mindset, and it can prove invaluable in nonacademic areas of life like relationships and sports. 

So what does all this have to do with tutoring?

“Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.” —Dweck

The fact our mindsets are malleable presents an opportunity—or a risk. Everyone around you can affect your mindset. If you hang out with people who believe intelligence is fixed, you’re more likely to believe the same. If, on the other hand, people around you say intelligence can be grown—well, you’re in a good place to develop a fixed mindset.

This is particularly important in places where we are actively learning: tutoring and school. But while you cannot always choose what teacher you have, you can choose your tutor. And every educator you interact with can have a huge—and often unnoticed—impact on your mindset.

Finding a growth mindset tutor is essential for developing a growth mindset in school—and in life. The right tutor can see your potential for growth and  give you tools for putting in effective effort.

How Our Tutors Cultivate a Growth Mindset

1. We Personalize

As Dweck explains in Mindset, “Many of those accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have no future. Jackson Pollock, Marcel Proust, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Lucille Ball, and Charles Darwin were all thought to have little potential for their chosen fields…People with the growth mindset know it takes time for potential to flower.”

If these revolutionaries had listened to the fixed-mindset “experts,” they may never have developed their talents. Our tutors personalize each lesson to access your unique talents—and overcome your unique challenges.

Learning is not alike for any two people, so each individual needs the time and space to work through their own process. Our tutors create this space, providing support and tools to meet you where you are—and to develop talents you may not even know you had.

Only in personalized sessions is such growth possible.

2. We Connect

When talking about the role of teachers, Dweck emphasizes, “every word and action can send a message. It tells children…how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.

Each interaction with educators impacts your mindset. Tutors who take the time to know their students, seeing past initial impressions and fixed judgments, can guide those students through their learning process.

We take the time in each session to check in not only on material, but also on life. Talking about the context of learning can uncover different factors that may be influencing your performance. More importantly, it builds relationships.

Only in relationships are we able to fully learn. Although these relationships can be with knowledge—theorems, studies, and books—the learning is most powerful when carried through human connection. We cultivate these connections, building a safe place in which you can grow.

3. We Believe in Growth

“When students don’t know how to do something and others do, the gap seem unbridgeable. Some educators try to reassure their students that they’re just fine as they are. Growth-minded teachers tell their students the truth and then give them the tools to close the gap,” Dweck observes.

Indeed, difficult subjects can seem completely unapproachable. Often, teachers don’t have the time to fill gaps in understanding or cultivate improvement for every student. That’s where tutors come in.

We know you can learn. We know that, with enough support and effort, you can not only succeed but excel in every course you’re taking. Even if you are failing English or hate geometry, those skills can be developed. And we can help you in their development.

The challenge is an opportunity for growth.

Beyond the subject material, we talk about the process of learning. In our digital age, you can look up the meaning of inchoate or the formula for a sphere. It’s knowledge you have at your fingertips. In a matter of seconds, you can answer any question. But it is not so easy to learn how to learn.

We focus on the process of learning so you can develop this skill. Even as we go through essay structure or algebra problems, you’ll find yourself building study strategies and shifting towards a growth mindset. The best learning extends beyond any subject.

In fact, it extends beyond student-hood. We come to each of our sessions wanting to learn at your side. We want to grow as educators even as you continue to grow. Together, we can learn and wonder in that learning.

After all, as Dweck tells us, “Above all, a good teacher is one who continues to learn along with the students.”

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