Hattie on Dweck: Sometimes pupils need 'fixed mindsets', argues leading academic

Professor John Hattie claims that growth mindset has been applied in "haphazard ways" and is not a "general state" to be aimed for

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“Fixed” and “growth” mindsets both have advantages for learning at different times, an influential education academic has claimed.

Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of the world’s most quoted education academics, said that people had misinterpreted “growth mindset” theory by thinking it was a "general state" to be aimed for.

Growth mindset was originally conceived by Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University. It states that an individual’s learning is shaped by whether they believe their intelligence is fixed or can be changed.

In a blog for the US website Education Week, Professor Hattie – best known for his pedagogy meta-study, Visible Learning – recounts a recent meeting he had with Professor Dweck.

“Over the time we spoke, we discussed our mutual disappointment, not surprising, that so many took her work and applied it in many haphazard ways,” he writes.

“Educators, pundits, and researchers have over promoted growth mindsets with no evidence of impact, and she noted how so many critics never bothered to read her academic work. 

“Instead they often recited secondary sources, believed Twitter and blogs were peer-reviewed rigorous studies and misappropriated her searching for ideas as if it was all resolved.”

Professor Hattie says the most appropriate situation for thinking in a growth manner is “when we do not know an answer, when we make an error, when we experience failure [and] when we are anxious”.

However, he argues that there are other situations where it is inappropriate, and can even impede learning.

“Having a growth mindset…may not be needed for easy tasks, or on performance on tasks that are ‘novel and ill-defined and that therefore require both creativity and the willingness to abandon unsuccessful strategies,’" he says.

“It may not help if it leads to more practice on a task using already failed strategies, and seeking experts to provide alternative strategies may be more effective than believing that ‘I can’ and other growth notions.”

He says “there is no general state to aim for called ‘I have a growth mindset’ as we can have both fixed and growth, they have advantages at different times”.

“Those who argued that they have a ‘growth mindset’ are oblivious to the many situations when this is unnecessary, not efficient, and can get in the way of effective living,” he adds.

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