I have recently finished reading the book ‘Mindsets’. It is written by the well know Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at the University of Stanford. Prof Dweck’s research has significantly improved our knowledge of some of the factors that influence motivation. I believe the book is a ‘must read’, not only for teachers, but also for students and parents.
Prof Dweck discusses two different mindsets. A fixed mindset, and a growth mindset. The fixed mindset assumes a relatively static intelligence and ability. An individuals success and aptitude is principally determined by their innate gifting. The growth mindset on the other hand assumes that attributes like intelligence can be developed. Any skill, no matter how small or large, can be fostered and grown.
One of the most interesting findings is the way that individuals with the different mindsets respond to failure. Those with the fixed mindset see failure as a direct indicator of their lack of ability. Preexisting beliefs may be destroyed and the impact on self-esteem is profound. On the other hand, those with the growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn. They may feel disappointed, but this doesn’t lead them to give up. Instead, they appreciate the chance to learn and improve. This in turn effects how challenges are perceived by the two groups. Those with the fixed mindset approach challenges with anxiety. If they fail, this will uncover a lack of ability. Activities perceived as challenging are often avoided. In comparison, those with the growth mindset relish challenges. Even if they fail, they know they will learn. This prospect excited them. As a teacher I believe it is vital that we teach students that failure is fine. The main thing is that we learn and don’t repeat the same mistakes. As Winston Churchill famously said, ‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’
Students with the growth mindset are far more likely to be engaged in the classroom. They will use the opportunities they are given to learn and to develop. They will ask questions, seek challenge, not be afraid to make mistakes, complete their homework, and manage their behaviour well. Students with the fixed mindset tend to prefer easy tasks. They will only raise their hands if they know the answer. A mistake, particularly a public one will be very embarrassing for them. Most significantly, they will often use poor behaviour to hide misunderstanding. Their self-esteem is much less likely to be harmed if it perceived that they failed because of lack of effort, not lack of ability.
Prof Dweck is encouraging throughout her book. A growth mindset can be fostered. She cites many examples of celebrities, friends, students, and even anecdotes from her own life. She highlights how a change in attitude had a drastic impact on behaviour, and often led to much better results. As teachers we can make these changes in our students immediately. Through language and praise we can change our students mindsets surprisingly quickly. By focusing on effective strategies and effort, by learning from failures, and praising effort, we can help students see that their abilities are heavily influenced by their attitude. Simple changes to the words we use, and the behaviours we complement can have a startling effect.
At the start of next semester I will be leading a training session for all staff based upon some of the ideas I have learned from this book. I hope in turn to see our students show an even more positive attitude in school, and to desire to make the most of the opportunities and challenges presented to them.
These are my views only and do not reflect the official views of Zhongshi International School or any of its affiliates. The ideas from Prof Dweck’s book are based upon my understanding of the information provided. For a more thorough understanding I recommend you read it for yourself.