Blog Post No. 21
Posted on 27th November 2016 (Previously posted on 5th February 2016)
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016
Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of Dr Carol Dweck’s book – ‘Mindset’ – which is about mental attitude, resilience, achievement and success…
In this blog I will explain a simple model based on the findings of Dr Carol Dweck and her university research team.
Then I will describe some of the ways in which the model has proved to be effective, plus some useful questions that can help children and adults maximise their potential and enjoy their talents and skills more.
The bottom line is this:
Most of us have been persuaded (falsely) by our educational experiences in the past:
- That intelligence is innate, and fixed.
- That some people are just innately more intelligent than others.
- That you cannot change your intelligence level.
- That ‘really intelligent’ people never make any mistakes in the process of studying new material.
- That people who struggle to learn are ‘losers’ – and, the corollary – that people who we believe to be ‘winners’ never make any mistakes.
But there is no really good evidence for any of these historical prejudices! And most of them have been shown to be false by Dr Carol Dweck and her research collaborators.
Who is Carol Dweck?
Dr Carol Dweck is a world famous Stanford University psychologist who has done many years of research into achievement and success in learning.
At the start of her book on ‘Mindset’ she describes going into a school to do research with children.
She gave them puzzles, some of which were easy to solve, and some which became increasingly hard for the children to solve. She wanted to see how the children would handle the challenge.
She describes one child, a ten year old boy, who did the following:
“He pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips together and cried out, ’I love a challenge!’ ”
She then went on to describe another child who was sweating with the exertion of solving the puzzles, and who looked up at her and said, with a pleased expression on her face, and with authority in her voice:
“You know, I was hoping this would be informative.”
Carol Dweck was fascinated by their reactions and thought to herself, “What’s wrong with them?”
She couldn’t believe that they enjoyed learning, and didn’t get discouraged when they made mistakes.
She then went on to say:
“I, on the other hand, thought that human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs) you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, and perseverance were just not part of the picture.”
So these children became her role models, and she created a theory based on what she found when she started investigating the attitudes of children towards learning.
The two mind-sets:
She discovered that there were two identifiable and distinct mind-sets (or perspectives) which affected how children (and grown-ups) learn. One of these mind-sets (or viewpoints) assumes that we are fixed entities who cannot grow and develop significantly; and the other one states that we are growth-organisms who change and develop through experience and practice.
And she explains that: “For twenty years my research has shown that the view (or mind-set) that you adopt for yourself, profoundly affects the way you lead your life”. (Page 6)
Here is a video of Dr Carol Dweck explaining her ideas and research findings:
What this means, in practice, is that:
(1) if you hold the fixed mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you are stuck being the way you are today. No really significant growth will result from that mind-set. Or:
(2) that if you hold the growth mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you can set goals and struggle persistently towards those goals, without being dragged down by the fear of failures along the way towards success!
I will now present those two mind-sets in brief:
- A ‘Fixed’ mind-set means that:
# You think your qualities, skills and talents are carved in stone.
# You feel you have to prove your ability over and over again.
# You think that skill and talents should come naturally – that you shouldn’t need to make any effort. (Dweck considers that this is one of the worst beliefs anyone can have).
# You believe you have to hide your mistakes and deficiencies from others.
# You think you have to run from errors as quickly as possible.
# Basically, you are convinced that your traits are just givens: that you have a certain amount of brains and talents and nothing can alter that.
Questions that children ask themselves when they have this mind-set are:
‘Will I succeed or fail?’
‘Will I look smart or dumb?’
‘Will I be accepted or rejected?’
‘Will I feel like a winner or a loser?’
And now for the second mind-set:
- A ‘Growth’ mind-set means that:
# You think that your intelligence can be developed through receiving teaching, mentoring, and by applying yourself to what needs to be learned and practised.
# You know that making an effort consistently will lead to an increase in ability over time.
# You accept your mistakes and confront your deficiencies.
# You realise that being talented is just the starting point.
How do children get these mind-sets?
Dweck and her researchers wanted to find out how these mind-sets were transmitted to children. Over the course of fifteen years of research they discovered that indiscriminate praising of children’s behaviour was unhelpful. Praising them, and telling them how brilliant and talented they were, led to the children developing a ‘fixed’ mind-set. It made them avoid and fear challenges. They didn’t want to take risks because they wanted to ‘look good’ to others.
So how can parents help children develop a ‘growth’ mind-set?
Dweck recommends that praising the process that the children are going through, as they work at developing their skills, will be very constructive for the child. So the take away message is: Don’t praise another person’s results or outcomes. Praise their approach to the problem.
When children in a Chicago school were unable to pass a unit, instead of the grade saying ‘Fail’, it said, “Not yet.” This kept the child on the learning curve. They had not been classified as ‘a failure’, but rather as ‘still learning’.
A question she recommends that parents ask their children round the dinner table is: “Who had a fabulous struggle today?”
She recommends that if the process of learning is valued, and acknowledged, then struggling and making mistakes is accepted as a crucial part of the growth process.
So she contends that a ‘Growth’ mind-set:
- allows students (or learners) to embrace learning;
- helps them understand the role of effort in creating intelligence, and:
- also helps them maintain resilience when they are faced with setbacks, instead of running from their mistakes.
An experiment conducted with 7th grade students in the US.
Carol Dweck describes, in her presentation to the Royal Society of Arts, in 2013, an experiment conducted with 7th grade students, who were assigned to two different groups:
# Group 1, the ‘Growth mind-set’ students, were given eight sessions of study skills.
They were also given one session on the growth mind-set which involved them reading an article entitled, ‘You can grow your intelligence’, which described facts about how the brain works and how the brain can be developed like a muscle.
Then they were assigned a task e.g. ‘Write a letter to a struggling friend using a growth mind-set’.
# Group 2, the control group, were given eight sessions of study skills, without the extra session on the growth mind-set.
After the input to the two groups, the maths grades of the two groups were tested and analysed. The results were as follows:
The control group, who had only had study skills tuition, continued to have declining maths grades. But the students who had the study skills input plus the ‘growth’ mind-set session, showed a sharp rebound in their maths skills.
This is one example of the value of using this approach, and Dweck mentions other research studies in her presentation, which also confirm that the students’ learning is powerfully enhanced by teaching the growth mind-set.
How can Dweck’s theory and her research help children and adults?
Children have a very tough job of developing their skills in the hothouse of a school environment, with the spotlight of the teacher and their peer group on them most of the time. Who can blame them for forming (closed mind-set) limiting views of their abilities, when they are surrounded by judgments and constant evaluations of their progress (rather than their efforts and persistence)?
But they can be strengthened in their resilience and determination if the teacher and/or their parents use the growth mind-set when asking the children about their school work.
Here is a visual summary by Nigel Holmes of the two mind-sets and their differences:
For adults, the rewards of experimenting with the growth mind-set would mean that they persist in the face of difficulty, and keep going until they learn a way forward. Instead of seeing their errors during learning tasks as something that they have to flee from, they would see their mistakes as something that they could learn from.
They would give up rating themselves as a winner or a loser on the basis of the fact that it takes time to learn new knowledge and skills.
They would come to see the belief that we are a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’ (during the learning process) as a dysfunctional belief based on a lack of understanding about the way the brain-mind actually works.
Here are a few questions which can develop our own ‘growth’ mind-set, which are suitable for children and adults:
“What can I learn from this result?”
“What can I do next time when I am in the same situation?”
“What opportunities are there for my growth today?”
“What do I need to do to maintain and continue my growth?”
I strongly recommend Dr Dweck’s presentations and books, and hope you find them very useful for yourselves.
If you feel stuck in a situation where your current skills and knowledge will not take you forward, and you have the fixed mind-set, then you can’t make any progress.
Unless you figure out how to develop the growth mind-set, you cannot move forward. I can assure you, despite what you have been taught, that you can grow and change and develop. If you need help with that process, I can point you in some productive and constructive directions!
That’s all for now.
Dr.Carol Dweck (2006) Mindset. London: Random House.