Yesterday, at the Wellington Festival of Education, I had the pleasure of listening to Carol Dweck speak on her research with regards to Mindsets – Fixed and Growth.
Carol Dweck explained we hold both these mindsets, simultaneously, which creates a psychological battle on 3 main fronts:
1. The two mindsets have two different goals
- FM – doesn’t like looking dumb and therefore is risk averse
- GM – likes getting smarter so focus on learning
2. The two mindsets have different views of effort
- FM – being smart is easy and therefore should come naturally
- GM – effort is part of the process therefore staying with problems or confusion longer
3. The two mindsets have different views of failure
- FM – runs away from making mistakes
- GM sees mistakes as part of the learning process
Whilst I have always loved her simple but beautiful idea of two Mindsets, I have had issues with how it is implemented. This has been compounded further with what I have seen on the internet via blogs and twitter and also in schools that have embraced Growth Mindset. This is where she introduced a third mindset. One we need to be greatly aware of promoting. The False Growth Mindset. That firstly because having a Growth Mindset is seen as a positive, we all say ‘yes I do have a Growth Mindset’ and we encourage our students to say it without considering what it really means. Secondly It seems we have interpreted Growth Mindset = more effort = success. That putting in more effort will result in better grades, better performances, deeper learning. That Growth Mindset is through sheer effort alone.
This, Dweck informs us, misses the key point of the Growth Mindset. That a Growth Mindset is from a teachers point of view supplying support, guidance, and advice so that our pupils can develop strategies to overcome the problems they face. That actually Growth Mindset isn’t an outcome at all, which is how it is promoted in many places, but a journey. The ultimate outcome is improvement and learning. We need to be aware of creating a False Growth Mindset, of announcing a position, that builds self esteem and is used to make our pupils to feel good but isn’t any use in helping them develop.
So how do we begin this journey? Dweck’s answer to this surprised me. The first step of having Growth Mindset was first to become self aware and legitimise our Fixed Mindset. We must see it before us before we attempt to put in strategies that help our GM in the psychological battle. Her suggestion is that we find our triggers. Our reaction and behaviours in relationship to our FM. Here are a few examples of potential triggers:
- Facing Challenges: Anxious
- Struggling: Frustrated, worried
- Setbacks: Discouraged, defensive
- Being criticised: angry, defensive, ashamed
Dweck suggested we name our triggers, so we become intimate and aware of them. Mine would be Jerry Jealously. This would happen in a work environment when I see someone more skilled than me. Knowing and understanding my trigger then is the first step on the journey. The next step is overcoming those triggers. We can then try to implement strategies, for example pushing myself to seek advice from this person who is more skilled than me. It is this process of being aware of our Fixed Mindset and implementing strategies to overcome it, which is truly a Growth Mindset. Therefore if we really want to help promote a GM in our pupils, we need to help them become self aware of their own triggers, and guide them through advice and support in building strategies to over come them. We cannot just become proponents of the False Growth Mindset as this will achieve very little in the journey.
Dweck finished her talk by suggesting some more ways we can help our students on their journey with a growth mindset (if we are going to promote it within our schools):
1. Introduce them them to current thinking and research about neuroscience and brain plasticity. She seems to think if they are able to read about how the brain can change this might help them to become more aware of their triggers and be open to find strategies to over come them.
2. Do not preach to them about GM, especially adolescents. Allow them autonomy on this journey and author their own learning.
3. Do not link it to academic results. Try to link it to a child’s larger goals. Ask them ‘what do you want to do in life and how will you get there?’
However my main take away from her excellent talk was with regards to praise and rewards systems in schools. Many I have seen, including I believe my own schools, have generated into a ‘rewards for all system’. Pupils are rewarded for doing things they are supposed to do. Perhaps however I am letting my own personal bias get in the way of my practice (and others it seems). My department is in the bottom three of the school when it comes to handing out reward points within school. The recent feedback I took from the whole of Year 9, Year 11 and Year 13 was overwhelmingly positive, but all three year groups felt that a key area the PE Department could improve was in the area of praise and reward. Dweck suggested 4 areas we could reward that are linked with the journey of Growth Mindset:
- taking on challenges
- sticking to the challenges
- trying new strategies
- recovering from setbacks
Whilst not explicitly mentioned in our schools reward system, I do think these areas compliment PE and its overall aims very well. If you believe in Growth Mindset, and want it to shape what you do within school and promote it to your students, then the key message is GM is a journey that is linked to building strategies for growth and practice not just the promotion of sheer effort.
Further Reading from #EducationFest and #NRocks
David Didau’s post Why the ‘false growth mindset’ explains so much
Interview with Carol Dweck in Schools Week Carol Dweck says mindset is not ‘a tool to make children feel good’
Wellington College Podcast Students Interview Carol Dweck about Growth Mindset
Marc Smith’s post Mindsets: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown
Alex Quigley’s post Growth Mindset: More Evidence