Carol Dweck, the respected academic behind the “growth mindset” theory that has taken education by storm, has warned teachers to be aware of their own “fixed mindset” ideas.
Writing for US publication Education Week, Professor Dweck said every teacher had a “fixed mindset” in some circumstances and a “growth mindset” in others, and that greater awareness of this could help teachers improve their practice.
Professor Dweck’s “growth mindset” theory says an individual’s learning is shaped by whether they believe their intelligence is fixed or can be changed.
Those with a “growth mindset” believe they can become more intelligent through effort and by using the right learning strategies, while those with a “fixed mindset” believe their intelligence and talents are innate and essentially fixed.
In her article, Professor Dweck warned that some teachers took a “fixed mindset” approach to their own teaching abilities and to the abilities of their pupils.
“Watch for a fixed-mindset reaction when you face challenges,” she urged teachers.
“Watch for it when you face a setback in your teaching, or when students aren’t listening or learning. Do you feel incompetent or defeated? Do you look for an excuse?
“Watch what happens when you see an educator who’s better than you at something you value. Do you feel envious and threatened, or do you feel eager to learn?”
When criticised, teachers should “learn from the feedback” rather than feeling “defensive, angry or crushed,” she said.
She wrote that efforts by herself and colleagues to spread the word about her theory may have “put too much emphasis on sheer effort”, giving teachers the impression that a pupil’s willingness to try hard meant they had a “growth mindset”.
She added: “Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures.”
In an interview with TES in June, Professor Dweck said some teachers had misunderstood her theory and were “thinking, ‘that’s a smart kid, they can learn; that’s not a smart kid, they can’t learn,’” she said.
She added that many intelligent pupils in fact had a “fixed mindset” about their abilities and were uncomfortable with being stretched or challenged by teachers.