Thaden School's response to COVID-19

Fostering a Growth Mindset Through Assessment

February 25, 2021

Hannah Bahn v2

Hannah Bahn
Director of Studies

Carol Dweck, a leading educational psychologist at Stanford University, has dedicated her career to understanding the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. “In a fixed mindset,” according to Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort.” Alternatively, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” 

Research shows that mindsets hold profound implications for student learning. Students with a growth mindset work and learn more effectively, displaying a desire for challenge and resilience in the face of failure. On the other hand, students with a “fixed mindset” believe that they are either “smart” or not. When students with a fixed mindset fail or make a mistake, they tend to conclude that they are just not smart and give up. Such students tend to avoid challenge, preferring instead to complete easier work on which they know they will succeed. 

Our assessment practices at Thaden School are designed to equip students with the knowledge and tools needed to take charge of their learning. To foster a growth mindset, we provide students with opportunities to take academic risks in a supportive yet challenging environment. Thaden School teachers aim to foster this environment in a number of ways. For example, we create many low-stakes, formative opportunities for students to practice their skills and receive feedback from their teacher before completing a summative assessment. We also calculate students’ year-end scores using a decaying average that places more weight on their most recent work. In this way, we reward students for how far they've come regardless of where they started.

While we aim to foster a growth mindset in students through both our formal assessment practices and our everyday interactions at school, the messages that students receive at home are equally impactful. Families play an essential part in supporting students as they take academic risks, receive feedback, and strategize about the appropriate next steps. There are many ways to celebrate a growth rather than fixed mindset; here are a few specific questions that we have found particularly effective: 

  • How will you challenge yourself today?
  • What can you learn from this experience or mistake?
  • What would you do differently next time to make things work better?
  • What strategy can you try?
  • Who can you ask for honest feedback?
  • Are you proud of the end result? Why or why not?
  • What’s the next challenge to tackle?

As educators, we believe in the capacity of each student to learn and grow. It’s the reason we are so dedicated to providing them with rich learning opportunities and meaningful feedback. But the students who get the most out of a Thaden education also believe in their own potential and are willing to take risks, have fun, and learn from past experiences. A central part of our project is helping students develop the habits of mind necessary for success in school and beyond. We believe it all begins with a growth mindset.  

For more information, please refer to Thaden School’s FAQ on Grading and Assessment

Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2016.