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Small teaching approach: Growing


Motivating is based on the theory that students who receive feedback focused on their intelligence or ability equate performance with pre-existing ability, and they may develop a fixed mindset — believing they cannot improve. However, students who receive feedback on their efforts do not make the same connection between performance and intelligence and tend to develop a growth mindset — believing they can improve.

How to apply this approach

Reward Growth — Employ an assessment system that rewards student intellectual growth. Giving students multiple opportunities to practice, take risks, fail, get feedback, and try again – all without damaging their final grades – is one way to promote a growth mindset. Having exams or projects increase in weight as the semester progresses is another way to achieve this, as is offering students the opportunities to revise work or retake exams. Give Growth-Language Feedback — Replace feedback phrases such as “You are an excellent writer/engineer/pianist!” with phrases like “Fabulous job. You applied the concept of _____ in this assignment well.” Send the message to students that they can continue to improve, not that they have fixed abilities or intelligence. Promote Success Strategies — Share with your students the strategies you’ve seen pay off for former students. Not all students will heed your advice, but the message will come through: success comes from growth in ability, underpinned by hard work, planning, and thoughtful strategy.


Design for Growth — Does your course structure reward growth? Design your course and assignments to encourage and promote growth and efforts toward continual improvement. Communicate for Growth — Formal, written communications and informal, spoken conversations should pervade your course, starting with the syllabus and continuing throughout the entire semester. Feedback for Growth — Just as assessments can be classified as summative or formative, so can feedback. Even summative projects and exams have opportunities for formative feedback. Simple statements or questions can put students in this mindset by helping them link their most recent learning tasks with future ones.

Quick Tips

  • Use course design and assignment sequence to provide opportunities for early success.
  • Reward improvement by increasing assignment weighting over time or creating a portion of the grade that reflects overall improvement.
  • Provide examples of initial failures of famous individuals, or even of your own, to highlight growth journeys.
  • Give feedback in growth language. Focus on how students can improve and provide specific details on how they can.
  • Tell stories of success by sharing strategies of former students.


Lang, James M. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.pp. 117-129.

Keywordssmall, teaching, inspire, grow stDoc ID117982
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-04-14 12:14:57Updated2024-04-16 12:49:07
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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