‘Growth Mindset’ Touted by Companies, Ed. Groups in National Campaign

By Sean Cavanagh — February 02, 2016 4 min read
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Cross-posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog

The belief that students benefit academically from having a “growth mindset” has spread quickly from the research arena to classrooms, and now education companies selling tech products to schools and advocacy organizations are aggressively promoting the concept, too.

In what might be the clearest example of the concept’s rapid take-up, Amazon Education and TenMarks, another Amazon company focused on schools, today announced a national campaign to “transform student attitudes about math,” and encourage teachers to promote positive thinking about the subject.

K-12 officials, education organizations, and businesses have for years struggled to find ways to encourage students to approach math with enthusiasm and confidence, rather than sourness and self-doubt.

The hope is that changing opinions about math will lead more students to take the subject seriously, succeed in it, and potentially choose careers that rely on it.

The new campaign, titled “With Math I Can,” asks teachers and students around the country to take a pledge that they will replace the attitude, “I’m not good at math” with the view that “I am working to get better at math.” Amazon Education and TenMarks are directing educators, students, and parents to a new website,, which includes resources designed to promote perseverance, motivation, and achievement in math.

Amazon Education, a division of the the online retailing giant, provides curriculum, content, and other products and services to schools. The new campaign has drawn the backing of some big K-12 organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and ASCD, as well as Common Sense Education, which seeks to provide teachers and students with free, research-based classroom tools.

The campaign also has picked up the support of researchers at Stanford University’s Project for Education Research That Scales. A professor of psychology at Stanford, Carol Dweck, was a leading pioneer of the concept of growth mindset--basically, the belief that intelligence can be developed, and is not “fixed,” and that students who learn through a structured approach to building their abilities can do better.

Education Week has reported extensively on the popularity of growth mindset among educators. See the reporting by Evie Blad on math teachers’ conviction that turning around students’ defeatist attitudes and giving teachers specific strategies to help struggling students has an educational payoff. Sarah Sparks also looked at recent research by neuroscientists that links efficient brain activity with a positive mindset toward math.

Those findings, and growth mindset’s popularity among educators, no doubt explains ed-tech companies’ interest in weaving the concept into their products. For instance, ClassDojo, a platform used for communication and classroom management, recently announced it would work with Stanford’s Project for Education Research That Scales to develop a series of free animated videos for teachers, skills rooted in growth-mindset concepts.

Skeptics of growth-mindset (read some of the comments on the above-linked stories for a sample of their views) question whether it will lead educators to slip into promoting vague-yet-positive attitudes among students rather than concrete-but-difficult classroom strategies that will actually help.

Even Dweck, in a recent EdWeek commentary piece, sounded a warning, saying that as growth mindset spreads, schools need to be smart and tough-minded about how they implement it.

“A growth mindset is not about effort,” Dweck explained. Students need to try new strategies for learning, and thrive despite setbacks, but always with the expectation that their learning will improve.

Mindset concepts were designed to “counter the failed self-esteem movement,” she added. Educators need to focus on “telling the truth about a student’s current achievement” and then focus on strategies to help them overcome weaknesses.

In an interview, Rohit Agarwal, the general manager of Amazon Education, said the campaign would stay true to the disciplined vision espoused by Dweck. The resources on the website--which include videos and classroom resources--are designed to both provide clarity on what growth mindset is, and build enthusiasm among educators and students, Agarwal said. (See one of the videos from the site, above.)

For growth mindset to work, “the reality is that it’s not just about giving false praise,” said Agarwal, but using approaches that are “research-based,” which the site will deliver.

The online resources include professional-development videos and other materials for teachers (including video interviews with Dweck), an explainer on “recognizing and overcoming false growth mindset,” and how growth mindset applies to the common-core standards.

There are also resources for parents, designed to help them promote positive thinking about math at home. One video is titled, “The Right Way to Praise a Child,” and another is “Growth Mindset at Home in 10 Lessons.”

See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.