The phrase "Growth Mindset" seems like one of those teaching buzzwords that get thrown around a lot during professional development sessions - but what does it actually mean?
The book, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success was first published in 2006 by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and highlighted the power of perspective as it relates to our ability to achieve our goals, learn new skills, and reach our full potential. This was based on years of research by Dr. Dweck and her colleagues, and as the mindset theory grew, it contrasted with what she, in a 2015 opinion piece from Education Week, refers to as "the failed self-esteem movement" (there's a lot to unpack there, but that's another blog post for another day).
In many aspects of our life, whether academic, professional, or personal, our TYPE of mindset can influence our success. There are two types of mindsets outlined by Dr. Dweck in her book - a fixed mindset and a growth mindset - that come with their own set of learning behaviors. Let's compare how these two mindsets differ, and how those differences affect young children's long-term learning outcomes.
THE BELIEF THAT ABILITIES ARE INTRINSIC
If I have a fixed mindset, that means I believe abilities are fixed, and a person can only get good at something to the point at which their natural talent allows them. Following this line of thought, I would come to the conclusion that an individual's potential is predetermined.
It's important to note that some people who truly intend to help children might actually be inhibiting their ability to learn by unintentionally transferring their own fixed mindset onto the child. A teacher, coach, or even a parent with a fixed mindset might say something like:
"Not everyone is good at music. Just do your best."
"You can't learn a new language now, it's too late."
"That's OK, maybe spelling is not one of your strengths."
People with a fixed mindset see failure as the limit of their abilities - they're either good at something, or they're not - and view their abilities as unchanging.
THE BELIEF THAT ABILITIES CAN BE DEVELOPED
If I have a growth mindset, that means I believe abilities are developed, and a person can get good at something with hard work, effective strategies, and feedback from others. With my growth mindset in place, I understand that my attitude and my effort determine my abilities. You might hear someone who has implemented a growth mindset say:
"When you learn something new, you're growing a new part of your brain!"
"If you think to yourself, 'I'm not good at math', be sure to include
the word 'yet' to that statement."
"It's not important to get it right as soon as you start learning - let's take it step-by-step. What can you try next?"
People with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to grow - they can learn to do anything they want - and challenges are a tool making that growth possible.
Bringing a growth mindset to your home or classroom is all about emphasizing what the priorities of learning should be - do you want your child to value being perceived as talented and perfect? Or, instead, cultivate a genuine desire to learn and improve?
Dr. Dweck, in a 2016 article from Harvard Business Review, explained a common misconception of the growth mindset is limiting the idea to praising and rewarding effort, regardless of its productivity. What this means is that when implemented effectively, a growth mindset will rely on feedback and constructive criticism in order to improve. With positive verbal directions and consistent reinforcement, a child can understand that setbacks are to be expected when they're trying to learn new skills, and throughout life in general.
Children who learn in an environment where a growth mindset can thrive experience a shift in their perspective; children can now recognize challenges as naturally occurring and part of the learning process - not a source of shame. Which is why the manner in which teachers and caregivers present new skills or topics to children is so significant.
This approach may also be able to reduce anxiety for some learners when struggling is normalized, but the growth mindset's primary achievement is to give children a sense of confidence derived from hard work. Connecting a child's ability to feel proud of themselves to the effort they put into tasks enables the growth mindset to flourish. When children develop a work ethic, it functions like muscle memory, allowing them to remain motivated instead of rely upon external validation that comes without merit.
What do you think of Dr. Dweck's growth mindset? I would love to hear from you:
If you're a teacher, how have you implemented a growth mindset in your classroom?
If you're a parent, how can you use a growth mindset at home with your child?
Dweck, Dr. Carol S. "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" Updated Edition. Balentine Books, 2007.
Dweck, Dr. Carol S. "Opinion: Carol Dweck revisits the 'Growth Mindset'". Education Week Vol. 35, Issue 05, Pages 20, 24. September 2015.
Dweck, Dr. Carol S. "What Having a 'Growth Mindset' Actually Means". Harvard Business Review. January 13, 2016.