Growth v. Fixed Mindset

It is our hope that increasingly “growth mindset” actions are permeating our school and having a very positive effect on our students ongoing growth. We have spent a lot of time as a staff discussing the ideas in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, and I think it has taught us all a great deal. I would like to share a few excerpts today to expose interested parents to the dramatic differences between fixed mindset and growth mindset, and the impact each can have on the success of students in the learning process.

“No parent thinks, “I wonder what I can do today to undermine my children, subvert their effort, turn them off to learning, and limit their achievement.” Of course not. They think, “I would do anything, give anything, to make my children successful.” Yet many of the things they do boomerang. Their helpful judgment, their lessons, their motivating techniques often send the wrong message.

In fact, every word and action can send a message. It tells children—or students, or athletes—how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development. 

…Praising children’s intelligence or talent harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they are dumb. That is the fixed mindset. 

…Parents (and teachers) think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents and teachers what to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves to praise. They will have a life long way to build and repair their own confidence.

…So what’s the alternative to praising talent or intelligence?…One of Carol Dweck’s students wrote: I went home this weekend to find my 12-year-old sister ecstatic about school. I asked what she was so excited about and she said, “I got 102 on my social studies test!” I heard her repeat this phrase about five more times that weekend. At that point I decided to apply what we learned in class about mindsets to this real-life situation. Rather than praising her intelligence or her grade, I asked questions that made her reflect on the effort she put into studying and how she has improved from the year before.

As a school, we want to partner with parents in building the growth mindset in all of our students. We are working to make the learning processes in our classrooms as clear and growth focused as we can. When students understand the learning goals, and also know what it looks like to demonstrate their understanding at a high level, then they can see their own growth and progress as the unit unfolds. This type of instruction really reinforces growth mindset and has a very positive effect on student motivation. 

If you would like to talk more about this topic, please feel free to give me a call at 564-2346 x1001.

Scott Greupink