Growth mindsets and the stretch zone

If you are not yet familiar with the work of Carol Dweck, here is a must-watch explanation of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

Students with a fixed mindset shy away from challenge and avoid mistakes, through fear of looking stupid. In contrast, one of the key elements of a growth mindset is the acceptance that mistakes and challenges are both essential for learning, and therefore they are celebrated as part of the learning process.

Throughout this year, I have tried to develop a growth mindset in my students. One of the most effective ways has been to simply display the above poster in my classroom:

This stretch zone diagram was introduced to me by Lynne Coote at excellent PD in Shanghai, and it has been constantly referred to in my classroom ever since. At the start of the year, I had a discussion with my students about each zone, and students gave practical examples of each.

A friend of mine has this brilliant quote displayed in her house:

“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”

Neale Donald Walsch

The same applies to learning. My students know that they should be in their stretch zones in order to develop. The content of classes should be challenging, yet achievable. Of course, it is the teacher’s responsibility to differentiate appropriately and to use assessment information to inform planning. However, it is also the student’s responsibility to make sure that they remain in that stretch zone. For example, it might be necessary to ask for an extension, or to apply the concept in a different way.

If work is suitably challenging, mistakes are inevitable. In my class, mistakes are celebrated as proof that they are in their stretch zone. Similarly, students who work quickly, easily and effortlessly are not praised. This is evidence of students being in their comfort zones. Students with a fixed mindset prefer their comfort zone because they are successful within it and they can continue to show their success. This quote, found on Twitter recently, perfectly sums up comfort zones:

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”


Carol Dweck’s research has a lot of implications for teachers all over the world, and I’m sure that we’ll be hearing much more about it over the next few years. As a starting point, consider introducing the stretch zone to your class. Remember to praise effort, process and mistakes.


    1. Hi Corsair,

      Good question! Though there are some connections, I see them as different. The ZPD is about what the student can achieve with help, whereas the stretch zone diagram is about finding an appropriate level of challenge. It’s more about growth mindset and grit than support from others. Does that make sense? Feel free to disagree with me. It’s a good question that is stretching my thinking! Thanks for that.



  1. Hi Adam
    I love this idea and want to use it in my class next session. Please could you email me an English version of the diagram?
    Thanks in advance

  2. Hello I’m studying towards my primary education degree. I’m wondering is there an English version of the diagram? I’d love to share with my classmates.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Matt! I’m glad you like it! I have written a reminder to myself to send it to you next time I’m at my laptop. I just added Chinese because we’re a bilingual school. I can easily remove it. What’s the best way to send it to you? Email? Facebook?

      1. Hey Adam, Can you email me a copy of tge diagram too? I’d love to display it in my classroom.

  3. There’s a lot of data from around the world that shows that high-achieving young children, even gifted children, leave education with average results. From years of being told how good they are, they become complacent and they enjoy the success so much that they fear failure. This sounds like your high-achievers, Karin. At the other end of the scale is the even sadder story – those who believe that they are incompetent failures. All students, regardless of ability, are capable of improving. Teachers, parents and the students themselves are responsible for making this happen. Feel free to use this poster and use it to praise stretch zone students. How can students show that they are in their stretch zone? Easy – they will make mistakes. Students need to know that their mistakes will be praised, not their correct answers. If one of my students has a whole page of correct answers in maths, for example, I get a sinking feeling because I know that I haven’t differentiated properly. Students should feel similarly alarmed because this shows that they have not learnt anything new. We can develop this classroom culture over time.

    1. Hi Adam,
      From my experience this is so true, please could I have a copy of the ‘Zone’ poster in English for display .

  4. This is incredibly relevant in Hong Kong. The focus at my school, a local school, is achieving high results. Students flat out refuse to leave their comfort zone as they are ridiculed and sometimes even punished for making mistakes or getting less-than-desired results. This results in a dichotomy: students who consistently do well, but are afraid to do anytging new; and others who have given up on learning altogether as they consistently “fail”.

    In my classes, I have been trying my utmost to instill a growth mindset by praising mistakes and emphasising progress, not results. Small drop in the sea but hopefully making a difference.

  5. I love growth mindset stuff!! We have led it in our cluster! I truly believe it works too! Good stuff Adam!

    1. Thank you! I totally agree. Well done for leading it! Great to have an expert reading and commenting on my post! Maybe you could be a ‘guest blogger’ and do some writing for me on here…

  6. The idea of using the zones has helped paint misconceptions in a more positive light and I will test this in my practice; misconceptions are a large part of our work as teachers and I believe it is also beneficial to record them, my students have misconception space in the back of their exercise books and this method reveals tangible progress for all. Deep learning is the key here and I’m excited to make use of this strategy.

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