Review. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential by Carol Dweck

Over the past few years, an abundance of posters, INSET days and podcasts have centred around Growth Mindset.  Listening to this rhetoric encouraged me to actually delve into Carol Dweck’s work myself.

In essence, Growth Mindset is “the belief that all people can develop their abilities.”  This is the opposing view to that where one believes that intelligence and capabilities are somewhat fixed.  Growth Mindset is the view that “with the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.”

Growth Mindset doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone can become an international sportsman or musician, but simply that everyone can improve their abilities.

Dweck refers to the human brain as acting like a muscle, where it becomes stronger and quicker the more you use it.

Importantly, Growth Mindset is not simply requiring more effort from students, as clearly if students try harder with ineffective strategies, frustration will ensue.  Instead, it is about trying new strategies, increasing effort and commitment as well as knowing when you require help from others.

Importantly, teachers with a Growth Mindset often tell students the truth but crucially tell students how to address those gaps.  Famously, “telling students that they’re smart actually made them feel dumber and act dumber, yet claim they were smarter.”  Instead, “accomplishments should be tied to the process.”  For example, praising a student for a good test score may lead to a  fixed mindset where they think they are naturally clever.  Conversely, praising a student for a good test score by telling them how much they had practised and revised leads to an increase in a Growth Mindset where students understand that skill and achievement come through hard work and commitment.

Finally, a word of caution I found was that Growth Mindset must be shown through actions and not words.  It is commonplace for a classroom or a school to be littered with phrases trying to encourage a Growth Mindset in students yet if the culture runs contrary to their message, they become ineffectual. This is similar within school leadership.  School leaders may say that they encourage a Growth Mindset mentality from staff yet if staff take risks and are castigated if results dip by taking those risks, staff are less likely to create and innovate in the future to protect themselves from future punishment.

“It’s not always the people who start out the smartest, who end the smartest.”

Practical implications for Teachers

  • Refrain from giving students insincere praise, especially praising effort when it is absent.
  • Tell students the truth but then tell them how to close the gap.
  • Ask students, “what mistakes did you learn from today?”
  • The power of “Yet.” Subtly including ‘Yet’ at the end of a sentence can be very powerful.  For example, “I can’t do it….Yet.”
  • Use certain phrases to encourage a Growth Mindset: “Skills and achievement come through commitment and effort.” “There are no shortcuts.” “If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.”
  • Tie accomplishments to processes. E.g. “You scored highly on your test because you revised hard and have worked well in class etc.”
  • Think about what areas of growth you can improve in your own teaching. Think about how you can improve them, and when you will “embark on your plan.”

Practical implications for School Leaders

  • Aim to recruit individuals with the right mindset rather than talent.
  • Aim to reward team not individual goals.
  • Aim to support innovation through actions and not words. Leaders should support innovative leaps and not castigate failures, which likely lead to mediocrity.

A popular book and an eye-opening look into the research that underpins most of the work that we have seen recently over the use of “Growth Mindset.”  A highly worthwhile read if you want to delve into more of the research and ideas behind the current rhetoric in schools:

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