A growth mindset focuses on effort and work instead of talent. It’s not what you already can do, it’s what you are willing to work at. It’s not what you arrived with, it’s where you are willing to go. A fixed mindset assumes that effort will not result in change, so there is no point in trying or taking risks. A fixed mindset student will shy away from difficult work because it threatens their perception of their innate talent. To try and fail would be to admit that they aren’t smart. Are you thinking of some of your students at this point?
As educators, we can take simple steps to help students make the transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. One is simply in how we encourage them. It is common to commend students for being smart. However Dweck shows this can often lead to a shutting down right around the middle grades.
In one example, Dweck’s team studied hundreds of early adolescent children. They were given ten questions from an IQ test. At the end, they were divided into two equal groups and told how they did. One group was encouraged with comments like, “You did well. You must be very smart.” The second group was told, “You did well. You must have worked really hard.” This pattern of recognition continued throughout the study. Later the students were offered the chance to tackle challenging tasks. The group that was praised for intellectual talent had developed a fixed mindset and declined the offer. They didn’t want to risk failure. The other students who had learned the rewards of hard work developed a growth mindset and welcomed the chance to work on difficult tasks. As you might guess, these choices affected future performance. By the end of the study, the growth mindset students showed growth on their tasks, while the fixed mindset students actually regressed. Since the questions had originally come from IQ tests, you could conclude that the fixed mindset reinforcement actually lowered their IQs!
This is just one example of many in her book, and I encourage everyone to read it. It has already affected the way I compliment and encourage others, and I believe its principles will benefit many of my students this school year.