Why Fostering a Growth Mindset Can Aid Language Learners

November 2023

Just in time to tie in with the JALT 2023 National Conference, we’re focusing on Carol Dweck’s research on Growth and Fixed Mindsets. Do your students believe in their own capabilities to persevere and learn on their own? Or are they convinced that learning English is something beyond their innate abilities? Let’s look more closely at this theory and how it applies (or doesn’t) to the language classroom.

Our cover: “Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

Cover photo by Adrien Vajas on Unsplash; others from Pexels

Watch before you read...

This month we’re delving into mindsets. In the Main video, Nick Standlea explains key takeaways from Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck’s paper “Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.” In the Deep video, Andrew Huberman not only discusses what a growth mindset is and how to implement it, he also explores how to integrate a growth mindset with a stress-is-enhancing mindset. Then, Heather Kretschmer introduces this issue.

In the Think Tank, Harumi Kimura writes about different ways students can experience growth mindset. Next, Marc Helgesen gives us a visual introduction to mindsets while Stephen M. Ryan shares the listening and reading activities and materials he developed for his students. Kathleen Kampa Vilina relates how she helped children at her school cultivate a growth mindset. Finally, Curtis Kelly and Caroline Handley invite us to think critically about mindsets.

In the Plus section, we highlight two recent webinars with Anna Mills on generative AI.

Our Thoughts on Mindsets

Fostering Perseverance Heather Kretschmer

Think back to a time in your childhood where you struggled to succeed at something. Maybe it was solving a challenging puzzle, singing in harmony in music class, passing the ball smoothly to a teammate, or completing a difficult homework assignment. When the going got tough, did someone give you encouragement like the following?

    • “No pain, no gain.”
    • “Practice makes perfect.”
    • “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

Think Tank Articles

A Tale of Two Approaches: Nurturing a Growth Mindset Harumi Kimura

I really like Dweck’s (2017) idea of mindset: a growth mindset, the belief that we can stretch our abilities, helps us make a difference in every aspect of our lives. People with a growth mindset believe in their potential and make efforts to make it happen. They know that they continue to be learners all their lives. The idea is encouraging, exciting, empowering, revealing, transforming—you name it! The growth mindset is a powerful motivator. It pushes us to be hardworking and persistent.

Mindset, the Theme of this Issue (and the Theme of the 2023 JALT Conference), is a Useful Concept Marc Helgesen

Webmaster Note: Be sure to attend the BRAIN SIG’s forum at the JALT 2023 National Conference in Tsukuba on Saturday, November 25th from 18:10 to 19:10 in Room 406. The forum is titled “Brain Bytes: Inspiration from Neuroscience for Teaching” and Marc will be one of the presenters. He’ll be sharing lots of great information about Growth and False Growth Mindsets, and this piece is just a preview for the larger forum!


Basically, you need to know the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, ideas based on research by Carol Dweck at Stanford. There are many short articles and videos on the internet that explain them. Here is one: a short (7:00) video that explains the difference.

Could Do Better Stephen M. Ryan

Astute readers of these pages may remember that I am engaged in a project to teach my EFL students about their brains at the same time as they learn English. My main approach has been to use texts and activities in English with my twice-a-week Reading and Listening class students. I see them once for Listening and then again, later in the week, for Reading. In this article, I will share with you a sequence of materials focused on Mindsets that I use in both weekly lessons.

An Interview with a Teacher who Promotes Mindsets: Kathy Kampa Kathleen Kampa Vilina

Seisen International School, the school I taught at in Tokyo for 31 years, has always been on the cutting edge of new thinking in education. We learned about growth mindset and how to implement it in our classrooms. I’ve continued learning more by reading academic articles about it, listening to TED talks, and reading Carol Dweck’s book.

The Mindset Squirm Curtis Kelly

There is something about the Mindsets movement turns down the temperature for me. While I truly believe that delineating Fixed and Growth Mindsets has been a  valuable contribution from Carol Dweck, there is also something about all the attention given to it that furrows my brow. Whenever I hear claims about it being espoused, even while nodding in agreement, I also experience this niggling feeling that something is not quite right. I felt the same niggle when I heard the claims about Learning Styles[1], Mirror Neurons, and Power Poses, all of which, as seen in the links, have been downgraded following further research.

[1] Meaning the hardline position that people have a visual, aural, or kinesthetic learning style that they learn everything better by.

Think Tank Plus

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

Curtis: The ideas I wrote about were formulated after a mail exchange with our beloved Caroline Handley, the smartest brain of us all and a regular contributor until she moved to Spain to work in a neuroscience lab. I sent her my article and her reply shows she is still the smartest. Thanks, Caroline.

On Oct 25, 2023, at 3:26 PM, Caroline Handley wrote:

Hi Curtis, 

 Like the mugshot! 

I’d meant to send you the meta-analysis, but glad you found them anyway. It’s a difficult one, but I wouldn’t lump Dweck with power poses, as she has proved a much better scholar. I agree that it fits the “we don’t need to fund poor kids’ schools, just teach them growth” attitude of the US (and other societies) and this is a big issue. I also find it a bit like the idea of “power napping”, it’s a common-sense idea that works, but it’s really just a jazzy label for stuff we’ve long known. I mean, learned helplessness is all about the perception of being able to control your environment and I think growth mindsets possibly taps into that to some extent, rather than being revolutionary. Something I think Dweck has acknowledged somewhere.

But it is well loved, as shown by a recent PISA report focusing a whole section on it: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/growth-mindset.pdf

As you may suspect, often seems to work best in WEIRD societies. I find it particularly interesting that it has no (or even a negative effect) in China, which tops the PISA table for education, across maths, science, and reading. So, there is definitely some kind of cultural interaction.

I also noticed in the PISA report that having a growth mindset is correlated with thinking the teacher is interested in you – some of the effect of these interventions may just be that they make students think the teacher cares, as they are bothering to say such things.

But, on the plus side, growth mindset interventions are cheap and don’t take a lot of effort, so whether they work or not, at least they are not taking time and resources from other important things, unlike myths like VAK learning styles.

As you say, one to keep exploring with an open but critical mind…


More on AI (and ChatGPT) In Language Teaching

Our March issue on ChatGPT was one of our most popular issues ever, and generative AI continues to impact teachers and teaching. Anna Mills recently held two webinars on generative AI that are well worth watching.

Generative AI Activities for the Writing & Language classroom

In this webinar, Anna Mills shares suggestions for microlessons on critical AI and ideas for incorporating generative AI into classroom activities. This link includes many useful resources, including the slides.

How teachers can harness AI in our work

In this webinar, Anna Mills focuses on how teachers can use AI in their work. She explains what we need to consider when using AI text generators (e.g., privacy, bias, accuracy of information), how to prompt AI text generators, and how teachers can use these text generators. This link has more resources, including the webinar slides.

TalkPal AI: This chatbot is designed to help people learn foreign languages. The free account allows the user to interact with the chatbot in the target language for 15 minutes a day. During the chat, the learner can either record him/herself or type his/her ideas and then listen to and read the bot’s responses. The bot gives written feedback on grammar and vocabulary for each utterance/text from the learner. 

Although the bot has a robotic pronunciation, and 15 minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, learners may find these chat sessions valuable for independent self-study. Daily low-stakes practice with a patient AI tutor can help learners build their confidence as well as give them some comprehension practice and useful immediate feedback on their speaking and/or writing.

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari



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