With a growth mindset, the sky is the limit

15th October 2010 at 01:00
Carol Dweck's new book enocurages us abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work

Carol Dweck's Mindset, subtitled The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential, is very interesting. Her ideas are known in Scotland because Carol Craig of the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being in Glasgow endorses and promotes Dweck's findings. The research that supports the theory is impressive. The notion, that not everyone can be everything but that a person's true potential is unknown and unknowable, is compelling.

This has been said before by Howard Gardner and other experts. These researchers recognise that IQ is not a fixed construct but a fluid entity. Dweck is different, because of her focus on fixed and growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their basic qualities, such as their talents or intelligence, are fixed traits. Wrongly, they may believe that talent alone produces success.

In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work: brains and talent are not the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience which is essential for significant accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

This matters in Scotland, where we habitually erode the self-confidence of ourselves and others. Dweck states that if you praise people by saying "you are a really clever girl", you are actually undermining them because you are communicating a fixed mindset. OK, says Dweck, some people are born with talent and some are born with special needs, but the vast majority of people can achieve if they put their minds to it.

The research is convincing. Dweck talks about two groups of seven to eight-year-old children who were given problem-solving tasks to do. Upon completion, one group received feedback along the lines of: "You did a brilliant job putting these puzzles together; you must be clever children."

The other group was told: "Well done, you worked really hard." When asked if they wanted to do a harder task, only the kids who received the growth mindset feedback said "yes". The youngsters who had been told they were clever and had the fixed mindset couldn't agree to another puzzle, because there was too much to lose.

All this is relevant to education, especially in the area of target setting. Many schools ask senior pupils to set targets for their SQA examinations. Adopting the Dweck philosophy on mindset could pay huge dividends here. In the fixed mindset, when you are given a positive label, you are afraid of losing it; when you are given a negative one, you are afraid of deserving it.

If you have a growth mindset, an A grade target will enhance your performance. It is important, however, that the teacher talks about potential attainment in terms of effort and challenge, rather than natural talent.

Worryingly, teachers can unwittingly communicate the fixed mindset. Yet pupils who agree a high target to aim for positively blossom when told that they can achieve this with effort and self-belief.

Marj Adams, teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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