The Importance of Mindset for Students

I like to tell students that I struggled to learn languages in school – they didn’t come as naturally as some other subjects. In fact, like many ESOL teachers, I’ve had to learn a lot about English grammar in order to explain to students how to know what the right answer is. I’m often humbled at the number of variables they need to consider in order to say something grammatically, particularly at the upper levels of the ESOL program. One foundation for overcoming these considerable challenges is to develop certain beliefs about learning itself - beliefs you can take with you from one lesson, teacher, or subject to another.


Students’ beliefs about their own ability to learn and grow have a tremendous impact on their learning. Students who believe that their performance is mostly unchangeable tend to stick with what they already know and avoid new challenges. They might envy students performing at a higher level but don’t imagine this as possible for themselves. This is known as a fixed mindset. In contrast, students who believe themselves capable of learning many new things tend to seek out challenges and approach them with confidence. This kind of growth mindset, as it is called, leads these students to develop their skills faster and further.


Mindset is often a self-fulfilling prophecy or self-perpetuating cycle. When a student believes they will fail, a teacher is more likely to believe this – and vice versa! Students who seek out challenges and take risks tend to get praise and encouragement from their teachers.


The focus on beliefs is paradoxical; it can seem simplistic because it doesn’t get into the many skills that can make it easier to dive into new challenges. It also doesn’t get into the deep feelings connected to our beliefs, e.g., feelings of sadness or frustration at past struggles. At the same time, the belief itself is an incredible lever for changing students’ performance in school.


Probably the most important thing about mindset is that it’s always a live issue for us; it’s never stuck in the past. As humans, we’re constantly confronted with the limits of what we know, and our beliefs can energize and support us in our journey.



Lewandowski, Marcin. Let it grow! “Growth mindset in an EFL classroom.” Cambridge Press: World of Better Learning Blog, May 3, 2018.


Armstrong, Kim. “Carol Dweck on How Growth Mindset Can bear Fruit in the Classroom.” Association for Psychological Science: Observer, October 29, 2019.


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