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by Charity Moran Parsons
National Faculty

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Topic tags: Gold Standard


March 10, 2016
4 Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in PBL

by Charity Moran Parsons
National Faculty

Originally posted on

“I can’t do this! I hate geometry! I’m too dumb for this!”

In our classroom, the word "can’t" was the worst four-letter word a student could use; after all, even the last three letters of "geometry" insist that you T-R-Y….TRY!

The student’s outburst is a classic example of fixed mindset. Fixed mindset tells the student to avoid challenges or to give up easily. Project Based Learning helps students understand that intelligence is just like any other skill – it can be developed. In a 2014 TED Talk, this is what Carol Dweck describes as growth mindset. The image below shows key differences between fixed and growth mindset.


So, how does PBL promote growth mindset?

Think of a student who shuts down at the first sight of adversity. In Gold Standard Project Based Learning, teachers - as lesson designers and project managers - have a unique opportunity to craft experiences which encourage a growth mindset. Giving special attention to specific Essential Project Design Elements and Project Based Teaching Practices, we can promote growth mindset in PBL.

Here are 4 Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in PBL:

1. Build the Culture

Help students learn from failures. In a recent Google Hangout on Building the Culture in Gold Standard PBL, my fellow BIE National Faculty member Jeanine Leys told a story about how her school celebrates failure. They even use a classroom tool called “raindrops and rainbows” to keep track of failed ideas and how they are necessary for eventual success. In his book Freedom to Fail, Andrew Miller offers a bevy of strategies for ensuring that students experience small, constructive failures as a means to greater achievement. How will you celebrate failure in your classroom?

2. Manage Activities to include Critique & Revision
Carol Dweck reminds us that constructive criticism is feedback that helps the student understand how to fix something. This rings true to the Gold Standard PBL practice of Critique & Revision.

  • Build in checkpoints for students to have opportunities to revise and improve their work.
  • Formulate a system to teach students to examine each other’s work and provide suggestions for improvement. 
  • When managing a project, using protocols for peer critique can harness the power of constructive criticism.

The Gallery Walk and the Tuning Protocol are two protocols that we can model and practice with students to structure feedback on three levels:

  • from teacher to student
  • from peer to peer
  • from expert to student 

3. Manage Activities to include Reflection

In Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning, PBL experts from BIE suggest that teachers can offer opportunities for students to reflect both outward and inward. Keep in mind that reflection can be ongoing throughout the project, as well as come at the end of the project.

Use this document to help students think about what they did in the project and how well the project went. This reflection tool will support students as growth mindset is developed via personal and team accountability.

4. Sustained Inquiry

When you design a project (you can use this Student Learning Guide and Project Calendar), build in opportunities for scaffolded challenges and sustained inquiry over time. Sustained Inquiry promotes growth mindset; students can take ownership of their learning as it is developed over a period of time. 

One strategy to achieve sustained inquiry over time begins with the Question Formulation Technique. Students create a list of questions, frequently revisit questions, and pose new questions to affirm all students’ intellectual abilities as they grow. This way, students gain a sense of learning and persistence in meeting the task at hand.

Click Here for more ideas and resources on Sustained Inquiry within Gold Standard PBL.

No matter which strategy you choose, always remember to communicate high expectations and assure your students that you will support them as they T-R-Y...Try! There's nothing better than a TRY to defeat failure and promote growth mindset.


Are you promoting growth mindset in your PBL classroom? Give these strategies a try and let us know how it goes! Please share your responses in the comment section below.


  • This is so powerful, even for 2nd graders! We did a gallery walk by posting some projects the kiddos did at home, here in class. Then we sent the notes back home with them before their next projects. Wow, what a difference they took in the care of their subsequent projects! Little things like handwriting, spelling, use of capitals and end-marks were all improved across the board.

    daleweisingioannides on March 17, 2016 
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  • The four ways to promote growth mindset in project based learning are very effective as I have tried implementing these methods with my classes and seeing positive results from students from all academic levels.

    bananasarehealthy on January 22, 2017 
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