Monday, December 5, 2011

Fixed or Growth Mindsets

Carol Dweck is a researcher who has done some interesting studies in “mindsets”. She says “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.” It is all about whether or not you have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset”.

A fixed mindset is “believing that your qualities are carved in stone”. People with fixed mindsets tend to spend their life trying to prove to others that they are intelligent. They evaluate every situation on whether they will look stupid or smart, be accepted or rejected, feel like a winner or a loser. They don’t take risks because they may look stupid in front of others. We all have kids like this in our classrooms… they may be at risk, or they may be very successful – but they spent a lot of energy protecting themselves.

A growth mindset is when you believe you were given certain traits – but these traits are merely a jumping off point in your life. You believe you can grow and change through effort. It is effort rather than intelligence that moves you forward. You believe your true potential is unknown and that you can achieve many things in your life if you try hard enough or have enough passion. We have these kids in our class too. Kids who accomplish things through sheer effort – who take risks and grow and change right in front of us.

Fixed mindsets stop us from growing... we ask questions like “Are you sure you can do this?” “Maybe I don’t’ have the talent”, What if I fail? “People will laugh at me if I am wrong”. With a Growth mindsets we say “I am not sure if I can do it, but I think I can learn if I try”, “Lots of successful people have failures along the way”, “Basketball was hard for Michael Jordan… but with passion and hard work he succeeded”.

I don’t know about you but I have seen lots of kids and adults that stand out in my mind as examples of both of these mindsets. I have seen very successful students with fixed mindsets – who leave high school and drop out of college because it’s too hard and they just aren’t used to putting in that much effort. I have also seen kids who are at-risk with fixed mindsets… “It’s too hard”, “I can’t do it”, “I’m stupid”. Dweck says this is because they are not equipped with to deal with challenges. “When they hit more difficult work… they begin to doubt their intelligence, they withdraw their effort, and their performance suffers. We have seen this happen with successful students … they lose their confidence, their liking for school, and their determination to do well."

On the other hand, I have seen kids who work hard in their classes or sports believing that they can succeed if they put in lots of effort, who are curious, take risks in class in order to learn, who fail things and are concerned but not devastated that it makes them “stupid”, saying things like “I didn’t study hard enough”. In fact, Dweck says that these students are the ones who “see the more difficult schoolwork as a challenge to be mastered through hard work, and they are determined to do what it takes to meet these new challenges."

The interesting part of all of this is that Dweck says we can teach kids (at school or home) to have a growth mindset. “Teachers should help students value effort. Too many students think effort is only for the inept. Yet sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement. In a related vein, teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. Rather than praising students for doing well on easy tasks, they should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.”

“Students who view that intelligence is a potential that they can develop do fare better when faced with challenge.” I believe that is what we are trying to accomplish in this project. We are trying to teach our kids in many different ways that they can learn, grow and be successful – through effort -- and through changing their mindset about themselves.

-google "Carol Dweck" for articles and interviews on mindsets.

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