Growth Mindset

I am back! After a long, well deserved vacation to the South Pacific, our son's wedding and the heat of club volleyball season, I am back. Blogging again, rejuvenated and invigorated. During our 7 weeks on the cruise ship I was able to catch up on the readings of many books. One in particular sparked my enthusiasm, "Growth Mindset" by Dr Carol Dweck. I would like to share a video & transcript from an article on I found recently from Dr Dweck and her research on children's behaviour: fixed vs growth mindset.



Carol Dweck: In my work, we find that some students have a fixed mindset about their intellectual abilities and talents. They think intelligence is just a fixed trait. You have a certain amount, and that's that. This is the mindset that makes kids afraid to try, because they're afraid to look dumb.

But other students have a growth mindset. They believe that intelligence can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. They don't think everyone's the same or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that even Einstein wasn't the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labor.

I'm going to organize this by telling you about a study we did with hundreds of students making the transition to 7th grade. They're about 13 years old. It's an extremely difficult transition, the work gets substantially harder, the grading gets more stringent, the environment becomes less personal, and that's a crucial time. It's a time when many students turn off to school.

So, as they entered we measured their mindsets. That is we saw whether they believed intelligence was fixed or could be developed. We monitored their grades in math over the next two years. We also measured a lot about their attitudes toward learning. They had entered 7th grade with just about identical achievement test scores. But by the end of the first term, their grades jumped apart and continued to diverge over the next two years. The only thing that differed were their mindsets.

Now, let's see why and how this happened. The first thing we found was that they had completely different goals in school. The number one goal for kids in the fixed mindset is look smart at all times and at all costs. So their whole lives are oriented toward avoiding tasks that might show a deficiency. But in a growth mindset, where they believe intelligence can be developed, their cardinal rule is learn at all times and at all costs.

That brings us to the second mindset rule. In a fixed mindset, effort is a bad thing. They believe if you have ability, you shouldn't need effort. And if you need a lot of effort, it's a sign that you don't have ability. I believe that belief, that if you have ability, you shouldn't need effort, is one of the worst beliefs that anyone can have. I think it's why so many of our promising students don't fulfill their potential. They go along, coasting along, not trying that hard, the other kids have to try. One day they have to try too, and they can't do it. Whereas students in a growth mindset say effort is what activates their ability.

And rule number three, in a fixed mindset, a setback or deficiency measures you and reveals your limitations. So what we find is that those students in a fixed mindset try to hide their mistakes or run from their mistakes, conceal their deficiencies. But those in a growth mindset, they make mistakes, setbacks, natural part of learning, its what happens when you take on challenges. So a fixed mindset gives no way for students to handle difficulty. They may get discouraged, give up quickly, or become defensive, acting bored. Often this idea, the statement, "It's boring" is a cover for a fixed mindset, it means "I'm afraid to try," or acting out and blame the teacher or the material.

How are these mindsets transmitted? We've studied this in a number of ways, but maybe the most interesting way is through praise. For 15 years, we have studied how adults' praise affects students. We undertook this work at the height of the self-esteem movement, when the gurus were telling us all to praise our children's ability. Tell them how brilliant and talented they are. But for 15 years we have found that praising children's intelligence harms them. It puts them into a fixed mindset and turns them off to challenging learning.

Let me tell you about a series of studies we did with 10- and 11-year-olds. We brought them to a room in their school and we gave them 10 problems from this non-verbal IQ test, initially. They did pretty well, because they were matched to their age level, and each child received one form of praise. A third of them got intelligence praise, "Wow, that's a really good score, you must be smart at this." Or process praise, that's about the process they engaged in, it could be their strategy, their effort, their focus, their persistence, "Wow, that's a really good score, you must have tried really hard." And the control group, "Wow, that's a really good score." I won't talk much about them, because they tended to be in the middle.

Now, if you listen carefully to the message embodied in each statement, the first one says "I value intelligence." The second one says "I value process." Let's see what happened. First, yes, indeed, praising intelligence put kids into a fixed mindset compared to praising the process. But the most astonishing thing to us was that praising intelligence turned kids off to learning, because after we praised them, we said "What do you want to do now?" "Anything's fine with us." "Do you want a hard task you can learn from but you might make mistakes or do you want a task that's like something you're already good at?" The majority of kids who were praised for their intelligence rejected the chance to learn in favor of something they were sure to do well on. But those praised for the process overwhelmingly wanted the hard task they could learn from. They didn't feel they were in jeopardy if they struggled for a while.

Later, we gave everyone a difficult set of problems, and here we found that those who were praised for intelligence lost their confidence, didn't enjoy the problems anymore, and even when we went back to the easier problems, their performance suffered. Those who were praised for the process remained confident. They saw these problems were harder. Many of them said the hard ones were their favorites, and when we went back to the easier ones their performance flourished, because they remained engaged and they remained learning.

A few months ago, we published a study showing that mother's praise to their babies one to three years of age predicted that child's mindset and desire for challenge five years later. So now I feel justified when I interview with mothers at airports who are telling their babies that they're geniuses, I have the data. So remember, praise process. But it's even more than that. It's convey to children a new value system. It's not about quick, easy, smart things, but like this: sit around the dinner table and say, "Who had a fabulous struggle today?" And each person shares a struggle. Or if a child does something quickly and easily, instead of rushing to tell them how good they are at it, we should say, "I'm sorry, I wasted your time. Let's do something hard. Let's do something you can learn from."

Recently I have fallen in love with a new word, "nyet." I heard at the high school in Chicago, where when they didn't master a unit, instead of a failing grade, they got the grade "not yet," and I thought, isn't that great, because not yet means, "Hey, you're on that learning curve, you're somewhere." So, when a child says, "I'm not good at math." "Yet." It's like, "Get back on that learning curve." "I can't do it." "Yet." "I tried but it didn't work." "Yet." The more research shows us that human abilities are capable of growth, the more it becomes a basic human right for students to experience that growth, to live in environments in which all students can fulfill their potential.