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Developing a “growth mindset” February 20, 2009

Filed under: Education,Things to remember — Ms.M @ 8:54 am

While reading Outliers: The Story of Success, I also ran into a recent skype interview between Carol Dweck and Will Richardson of Weblogg-ed.  Carol wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, based on her research of how different students come to view both failure and success and how much of an affect this has on their learning and future.

After Carol’s interview, I of course left with a few tidbits, but what seems to have stayed with me after a few days of ruminating are her final thoughts (There’s probably some psychology behind that being what has stayed with me, I’m sure). I heard the concept of “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset” thrown around in a few of my education courses, but they were never specifically tied to Carol and so I never ran into her book or her research. I have of course now placed the book in my “to-read” bin with the many other books I hope to read in the near future (that list seems to be growing rather than receding!).

Carol at the end of the interview stated that students, in order to develop a “growth mindset,” should be encouraged to see challenges as fun, as opportunities to grow as learners, to develop their intelligence, not as something to avoid.

  • Too often students now see easy as fun and a way to showcase their intelligence, while they view challenges as tedious or as situations that will showcase their lack of intelligence. Students with a “fixed mindset” see any opportunity that they think will lead to failure as something to be avoided. The specific quote Carol used was students thinking something like “I’d rather have everyone think I’m smart and lazy, than dumb” when they have a fixed view of their own intelligence.

Students should also see effort as the meaning of life, not something that only incompetent individuals need to survive.

  • This is of course seconded in Outliers. The people who succeed are the ones who are willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice behind what they are passionate about, not necessarily the ones born with innate talents. Carol told an interesting story of a teacher who taught “gifted” students and forced them to declare that their success is due either to their innate intelligence or to their hard work. Those who said hard work were chastised.  Although I don’t think all teachers are forcing students to make this declaration, I do think that as a culture we celebrate the success of those we assume have been born with innate talents (sports figures, American idols, etc.). And in schools there are many students who feel they can easily get an A without their complete effort and that therefore A’s will always come easy to them, and if they don’t they get frustrated. It’s unfortunate.

Finally, she said, students should view mistakes as a mystery to be solved, not as a sign of their incompetence.

  • They should be asking “What can we do next?” or “Why did this happen this way?” If they don’t, mistakes will be something they consistently avoid and they will undermine their own learning.  This very much reminded me of the story of Renee in Outliers.

Another part of the interview I found to be interesting was Carol’s actual brain research of these two views of success and failure as they tie to learning. Those children who had developed a fixed mindset of learning and success, their brain scans only showed excitement when they were praised for their success. On the other hand, those children who had developed a growth mindset, their brain scans showed excitement right before the learning started. They got excited at the prospect of learning something, as opposed to being excited only when someone has recognized their learning.

Both Outliers, and Carol’s work, have given me so much to think about.


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