Motivation, mindset, students’ efficacy

dweck mindsetTeachers play a vital role in fostering a positive attitude towards learning. John Hattie, Carol Dweck and Daniel Pink have done great work on researching student efficacy, mindset and motivation.  In this post, I have collated some of their ideas.

Carol Dweck is the key authority regarding the growth mindset. She makes the following points:

  • Fixed Mindset self-esteem is about feeling good about yourself, often in relation to the perceived lower achievement of others
  • Growth Mindset self-esteem is about having the courage & determination to address weaknesses
  • Confidence & self-efficacy comes from mastery of problems through resilience, not from false self-esteem
  • Growth Mindset Teacher: “I am not interested in judging how good your work is, I am interested in the quality of your learning”

Hattie suggests that self-efficacy, aspirational, and other psychosocial influences account for considerable variance in academic achievement.
a Dweck shows how to address this by promoting a Growth Mindset in the classroom.

People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given so people in this mindset worry about how adequate or inadequate they are instead of developing them. They believe their talent alone creates success – without effort and they are reluctant to take on challenges.

People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their traits are just the starting point and that these can be developed by dedication, hard work and effort. This view creates resilience and a love of learning. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. b

A Growth Mindset means that students believe their intelligence can be developed which has a positive effect on their motivation and consequently on their achievement. Dweck’s research shows that we produce confident learners when we praise students for the process they engage in and not when we tell them they are bright, smart or talented.

For example, Fixed Mindset students will opt for easy work because when they achieve the outcome it will reaffirm they are good at the task. Effort is also seen as threatening for intelligence students with Fixed Mindset because they think if you are having to work hard then you cannot be bright. For the Growth Mindset student, on the other hand, effort is the experience, the joy, learning how to do something for the first time – trying hard and being challenged.

What teachers can do

Mindset and motivation are similar and are equally important t0 student success. Daniel Pink and Alfie Kohn have offered great ideas on motivation and rewards.

For any task that requires thought, creativity or problem-solving, Pink doesn’t recommend a focus on concrete rewards and punishments. He feels there are three elements we must provide to students in this category:

  1. Autonomy—”the desire to direct our own lives;”
  2. Mastery—”the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters; and”
  3. Purpose—”the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

On the other hand, if “the assignment neither inspires deep passion nor requires deep thinking. Carrots, in this case, won’t hurt and might help. And you’ll increase your chances of success by supplementing…with three important practices:”

  • Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary.
  • Acknowledge that the task is boring.
  • Allow people to complete the task their own way

Source c

Great video (via @larryferlazzo) which explains Alfie Kohn’s motivation theories using Dwight Shrute from the Office. Hillarious and very effective. Well worth watching.

The video below explains in a visually engaging way how the brain learns, well worth showing your students:

Finally, I have to direct you to this fantastic overview by @larryferlazzo about how the brain learns:


  1.  Self-Efficacy and Academic Achievement in Australian High School Students: The Mediating Effects of Academic Aspirations and Delinquency. By Annemaree Carroll, Stephen Houghton, Robert Wood, Kerrie Unsworth, John Hattie, Lisa Gordon, and Julie Bower. URL:  (back)
  2. Mindset, by Carol Dweck  (back)
  3. Post by Eric Barker: What really motivates us?  (back)