Volume 15 · Number 2 · Pages 083–094
I Can’t Yet and Growth Mindset

Fiona Murphy & Hugh Gash

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Context: There are often children in schools who are at risk of failure because they have a view that their capacity to learn is fixed. Adults often reinforce this view. Children may be helped by providing counterexamples to show how failure can be overcome by persistence, trying different approaches, and by inviting them to reflect on ways to overcome their own challenges when learning new skills. Problem: Teachers’ implicit constructions of intelligence may interfere with their role helping children in school learn to approach problems with confidence. Our approach aims to change teachers’ and children’s constructions about learning with a view to helping children with their learning challenges in primary school. So, it is centrally about learning to learn. This study provides an opportunity to see whether it would be valuable to examine key ideas in growth mindset in a well-designed constructivist educational framework concerned with learning to learn. Method: The article is based on a qualitative analysis of one teacher’s views and of children’s interactions, using classroom video. The first author devised a set of lessons for a teacher to use in class around themes of learning to learn emotional aspects of learning. Use was made of positive models of individuals who overcome negative feelings and succeed. The children were videotaped in class and their interactions and conversations recorded. The aim was to describe the conceptual changes achieved by the teacher and the children around the concept of second-order learning or learning how to learn. Results: Children’s views of themselves as learners changed and so did the teacher’s views of learning and intelligence. As an approach to learning for children who are in danger of thinking of themselves as failures, the results are encouraging. Implications: The article is a demonstration of the possibility of changing teachers’ and children’s constructions of intelligence as fixed to a more positive flexible construction that children can learn to learn and overcome failure. Teachers working with children in difficulty will find the constructivist ideas about learning to learn helpful. Future research within a constructivist framework is needed to establish optimal timing for interventions of this type, to assess whether ability grouping may hinder the alteration of ideas about intelligence and to examine the durability of the changes in teachers and children. Constructivist content: Growth mindset is based on social learning theory, but implicitly it includes strong constructivist ideas. We consider our research to be similar to previous constructivist work on changing children’s representations and an example of Gregory Bateson’s concept of learning about learning.

Key words: Growth mindset, learning to learn, concepts of intelligence, children with learning difficulties.

Handling Editor: Alexander Riegler


Murphy F. & Gash H. (2020) I can’t yet and growth mindset. Constructivist Foundations 15(2): 083–094. https://constructivist.info/15/2/083

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