How can the concept of growth mindset help my students succeed as language learners and increase their motivation to learn?

Louise Potter

The traditional model of classroom, where the curriculum is presented to the students from a text book and the teacher is in front of the class instructing students what to do is long gone, although we still encounter this format in some schools where teachers are still resistant and refuse to understand that our students are no longer craving for information, but for what they can do with all this information. Beyond the walls of the classroom we are drowning in a sea of information, so we must teach our students how to make good use of it.

Our role has shifted and so has the students’. However, we still bump into a main issue in the classroom which is lack of motivation. And even though we as teachers, have studied and researched profoundly about motivation in the classroom, the problem, as Dörnyei (1996) states, is not the lack of theories to explain motivation, but rather the abundance of theories and models. The great deal of research in this area does not make it less confusing or easier to tackle in the classroom.

Lack of motivation to learn is probably one of the main obstacles teachers face nowadays. We know that motivation is a central issue in any learning process. In regular schools, discipline issues are normally related to student’s lack of interest in the classroom together with other factors, such as absence of classroom management skills, lack of clear objectives not only from the teacher’s point of view, but also from the student’s point of view, student’s inability to see a reason for learning a certain topic and many others.

How can we define motivation?

Is a nutshell, motivation is what drives someone to do something.

Until not so long ago, reward systems were the backbone of the approach for motivating students to show a desired behaviour (Williams & Burden, 1997). We now know that this is not the path to follow if our main goal is to help students learn. Extrinsic motivation will only take students half way up the hill. The simple definition of intrinsic motivation (when the drive comes from within) and extrinsic motivation (outside rewards) is not enough when we are involved in such a complex system of interaction between individuals who thrive for different goals within the four walls of a classroom.

Although teachers do have a huge responsibility and their classroom planning and management have indeed an enormous impact on what and how students learn, many more needs have to be taken into consideration when trying to motivate students.

It has become increasingly clear that cognition, emotion, and motivation are intricately intertwined, and it is difficult to determine where to draw the line between them (Pessoa, 2010) if there is such a line. Students nowadays seem to have to tackle emotional problems they are not mature enough to handle and this has had a great impact on their learning abilities. Pessoa states that emotion and motivation have crucial roles in determining human behaviour. Yet, how they interact with cognitive control functions is still not quite fully understood. Kalanthroff et al. (2013) show in their research that emotional distractors disrupt cognitive control. So apart from having to consider our classroom management skills and planning, understand and prepare activities that are motivational for our students, we also have to keep an eye out for our students’ emotional and cognitive status. This is not an easy task even for Wonder Women or Superman.

Recent neuroscientific research has come up with some results regarding growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and talents can be developed through learning and effort, while intrinsic motivation is a will to engage in a task for inherent satisfaction. Growth mindset relates to brain processes, how your brain perceives things and brain processes relate to motivated behaviours. I strongly believe that if we are able to work on our students’ mindset, we won’t necessarily solve the motivational issue we have in our classroom, but we will definitely help our students overcome their unwillingness to learn and realise that it is basically up to them if they really want to achieve anything in life. Having a growth mindset will make them lifelong learners.

Our mindset is the fundamental driving force behind what we do and why we do it. Empirical studies have revealed that growth mindset has positive effects on student motivation and academic performance (Betsy Ng 2018). Research has also shown that growth mindset has an impact on children’s behaviour, particularly in terms of effort, motivation and resilience (Dweck, 2008). Students’ mindset has a direct impact of their resilience when facing academic or social challenges.

How can we develop growth mindset in students?

There are some simple changes we can make in our classrooms in order to develop our students’ growth mindset.

The way you praise your students can affect their mindset, which can have a major impact on their self-confidence and how they deal with challenges inside and out of your classroom. Instead of simply saying: “Congratulations on your grade” and say “Congratulations! You must have worked hard” will change the way they perceive their effort.

Helping students understand that their brain can actually grow and become stronger can also boost their confidence and improve learning. Explain the concept of neuroplasticity. We know now that our brain has an enormous capability of rewiring and form new neuropathways. Neuroplasticity can be described as the ability of the brain to be able to continue changing. Learning can be challenging, and can therefore set off emotions such as frustration. If students learn how to regulate their emotions and handle constructive feedback coming from teachers and other adults, they will invariably be successful. Students need to learn how to overcome setbacks which will definitely occur on their way to success. Teachers can give examples of famous people, such as Harry Potter’s series author, who went to more than 25 editors before her book was accepted, or Steve Jobs, who was a university drop out and many others.

We should explore growth mindset videos, activities and strategies in order to help change our students’ thinking about their ability to increase their knowledge by rewiring their brain.

A crucial task for teachers is to prepare students to respond resiliently when they come across the inevitable challenges that will arise throughout their lives. We need to emphasize their potential to change.

But, of course, we must begin with ourselves.

Then I believe some problems related to lack of motivation can be solved.


Kalanthroff E., Cohen N., Henik A. (2013). Stop feeling: inhibition of emotional interference following stop-signal trials. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:78 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00078

Dweck C.S. Brainology: Transforming students’ motivation to learn. Acad. Search Prem. 2008; 67:110–119.

Ng Betsy. The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation. )Brain Sci. 2018 Jan 26;8(2)

Pessoa L., Engelmann J. B. (2010). Embedding reward signals into perception and cognition. Front. Neurosci. 4:17 10.3389/fnins.2010.00017

Williams & r. Burden (1997): Psychology for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dörnyei, Z. (1996). Moving language learning motivation to a larger platform for theory and practice. In R. Oxford (Ed.) Language learning motivation: The new century (pp. 71-80). Honolulu: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.