The growth mindset in key stage 2: Part 2

Written by: Ross McWilliam | Published:
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In the second part of his four-part series on the growth mindset approaches to teaching, Ross McWilliam discusses how to implement ‘starter’ growth mindset at key stage 2

As we continue our focus on the growth mindset in the latter years of primary education, it may be worth recapping what we have discussed so far (The growth mindset in key stage 2 teaching: Part 1, Headteacher Update, September 2016:

In this second article, I will focus on three areas: the value of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards; specific praise and feedback language to be used; and identification of measures to record progress.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards

Professor Carol Dweck, the creator of the growth mindset movement, is quite clear on the concept of rewards. All learning must ultimately be based on learning for learning’s sake. This can be put into context/relevance for individual pupils by using aspirational goal-setting.

If the pupil is consistently “bribed” to learn by rewards such as sweets, certificates, time-out, trips etc, then their learning will suffer. Often “good” pupils also fail to gain any extrinsic rewards. So the ideal is to reduce or eliminate rewards schemes and make learners intrinsically motivated. This is where aspirations and role-models may be needed, along with support from parents. I should add that there is merit in reward schemes if they are aimed at pupils who have difficulty accessing a growth mindset attitude – such as those with low self-esteem, learning needs or SEN, or attendance or behaviour issues.

Specific praise and feedback

Avoid giving “person-orientated praise”, such as “I’m proud of you”, “you’re good at this”. This assumes that success is due to set personal attributes and teaches pupils to interpret difficulties in terms of their personal weaknesses. When praise is person-orientated in terms of “you’re great”, “that’s brilliant”, it gives the person little information about the task, how they tackled it or how they can improve – crucially it can also put them on a dangerous pedestal of “I’m the best – and I don’t want to lose this good label now”.

Rather give “process-orientated praise”. This focuses on the process required for success. For example, praise their effort, challenge (metacognition), resilience and so on as this emphasises a striving for success. Feedback should be internally accepted in terms of needing more or different components from the five growth mindset elements that I touched upon in the last article (Challenge, Effort, Practice, Feedback, Resilience).

Some relatable work has been done by Sharon Silver (2016) on global versus specific praise and feedback. Global praise refers to generic praise whereas specific praise zooms in on a particular quality that has been developed.

Equally, feedback needs to be immediate, accurate and involve some interpretation by the pupil. This can be evidenced by teachers placing a score on a piece of work and asking the pupil to demonstrate why this score was given (perhaps using a reference grid at the back of exercise books/or displayed in classroom).

But be careful – pupils tend to focus on and get distracted by scores rather than engaging with the written comments.

Hymer and Gershon (2014) state that feedback/praise should be information, future and behaviour-based.

  • Information: “You need to...” rather than “that is a weak answer”.
  • Future: “The next time try...” rather than the “you failed that...”
  • Behaviour: “Did you really challenge yourself there?” rather than “You’re an A grade pupil, you’re clever”.

Mary Cai Ricci (2014) has been an effective classroom practitioner for more than 30 years and she subscribes to simple non-model and model statements:

Finally, language and metaphor are crucial in achieving a growth mindset message. For example, describe problems, issues and difficulties as a challenge or an opportunity to learn or stretch yourself, or areas for improvement rather than weaknesses. Metaphors can be useful – the journey starts with one small step (how do you eat an elephant = one bite at a time). Ideally, try and allow pupils the opportunity to create their own metaphors (cross-curricular English) so they own their learning.

Measures to record progress

One measure has been widely adopted and adapted from the work of Prof Dweck. It is based on four questions (some adaptations include 20). There is a spectrum ranging from 0 (fixed mindset) to 16 (growth mindset) and this can be used in a pre, mid and post manner, self and peer-evaluated:

Similarly, Angela Duckworth (2007) talks about the concept of grit and how we must demonstrate this quality over years, not months – learning and success are a marathon not a sprint, where careful praise is needed.

But, crucially, how do we unlock what motivates a young person to learn and make progress? Duckworth et al have created a GRIT test which measures resilience, a key component of growth mindset. This scale can be accessed online and provides a valid test of mindset resilience which can be used in a pre, mid and post state.

There may also be barriers associated with self-esteem, confidence, negative peer/home influence and aspirations. I have created the CUPPA Challenge which uses 10 simple questions to assess confidence (age-appropriate 10 to 12). Feel free to email me for details. Your school should also consider other measures based upon attendance (improved), rewards (increased number), sanctions (decreased number/severity), grades (higher), school/class attitude (appropriate indicators).

  • Ross McWilliam is a speaker and author. Some ideas in this article have been taken from his new book The Amazing Journey Of CUPPA – His Quest to Find the Five Secrets of the Confident Mindset, which is due out this autumn. It features several role models for talent and intelligence with video links. Visit or email

Growth mindset

Part three of this four-part series will publish in Headteacher Update’s January edition, due out on January 12, 2017. The first part of this article, published in September 2016, is available at


  • Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Dweck (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Robinson Publishers. New York.
  • Hymer and Gershon (2014) Growth Mindset Pocketbook. Teachers’ Pocketbook Publishers. Alresford, Hampshire.
  • Ricci (2013) Mindsets in the Classroom. Prufrock Press. Waco, Texas.
  • Silver (2016) How Praise Can Hurt Kids, Popsugar:

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