We can learn to be smart is the premise of Mindset The New Psychology of Success: How we Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential by Carol Dweck (2006). Dweck debunks the idea that intelligence is fixed, is predetermined by our gene pool. Instead, Dweck suggests individuals with a ‘growth mindset’ develop intelligence and abilities over time. In her book Dweck defines growth mindset as a state when individuals view personal qualities such as intelligence, abilities and talents as malleable. This contrasts those with a ‘fixed mindset’ who see qualities like intelligence as innate or inherited. People with a growth mindset according to Dweck, challenge themselves; they aren’t afraid of making mistakes, are known to go-for-it. People with fixed mindsets on the other hand are afraid of making mistakes, afraid of moving out of their comfort zones. Fixed mindset people Dweck describes as preoccupied with outcomes, the final grade or successful work project for instance, over the process and experience.
To support her philosophy Dweck quotes Robert Sternberg, psychologist and professor of human development at Cornell University who states that a key factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement” (pg. 5).
How Growth Mindset Applies to Learning
Dweck outlines several applications of the growth mindset to education. One she emphasizes is that educators need to act as role models. This contrasts with typical roles where people who are put in an expert role, educators for example, often feel they need to have all of the answers. This can limit their growth and student learning. Instructors need to model behaviours that include showing students you don’t have all of the answers, and that pursuit of knowledge, failure and even confusion, is part of the learning process.
- Learners can be taught a growth mindset. Dweck developed a program that teaches students growth mindset principles—intelligence is not fixed, students are in charge of their learning, need to stretch in order to get smarter. Students taught a growth mindset performed better academically.
- Telling students they are smart, intelligent and giving constant praise can lead to a fear making mistakes, fear of failure and a fixed mindset.
- Learning experiences need to be challenging—difficult. The concept that learning needs to be difficult is reinforced in Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The premise of chapter 4 in Make it Stick, “Embrace Difficulties” suggests learning is deeper and more durable when it requires considerable effort (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014, p. 73). See video featuring Carol Dweck on Struggle where she discusses the importance of challenge in learning.
Tips for Educators to Support a Growth Mindset
- Encourage students to be comfortable with setbacks and confusion.
- Don’t praise talent, praise process. Dweck’s research revealed that praising talent leads to fixed mindsets. Praising process includes acknowledging, resilience, effort, collaboration, and the experience.
- Be comfortable with confusion, for your students and yourself, and not finding the answer right away.
Approaching learning with a growth mindset frees learners to expand, grow and engage fully in the process without the constraints of IQ or SAT scores. Following a growth mindset as Dweck describes, requires a conscious effort, a mindset, a skill set. Yet it’s a perspective that educators can model and foster by their own actions, by making learning difficult, acknowledging and allowing for failure, and emphasizing the process of learning, not the outcome. Which mindset do you have?
- The Right Mindset for Success, Sarah Green, Harvard Business Review (Interview with Dweck; article and recording)
- Resources for Teaching Growth Mindset, Edutopia
- The Effort Effect, Marilyn Krakovsky, Stanford Magazine
- What You Believe Affects What You Achieve, Bill Gates, Gates Notes
- Helping Kids Take Criticism Constructively (Even When It Isn’t Constructive), Jessica Lahey, Motherlode, New York Times
- See Twitter #growthmindset for more resources
- Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
- Roediger, Henry L., Mark A. McDaniel, and Peter C. Brown. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. N.p.: Harvard UP, 2014. Print.
Image credit: Growth Mindset, bigchange.org