In a past series of articles, Beyond the Classroom delved into the wonderful world of neuroplasticity and the consequences of a fixed mindset. We explored the evolving learners that are our children and how the growing brain can adapt to new challenges. Here we will look at the pioneering work of Carol Dweck and her research about the “Growth Mindset” which builds on to the principles of neuroplasticity.
Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. These neuroscientific discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take, such as using good strategies, asking questions, practicing and following good nutrition and sleep habits.
The Power of ‘Yet’
Carol Dweck’s Ted Talks presentation opens with a powerful little story about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses in order to graduate. Instead of giving failing grades to those who did not pass, the school simply wrote “not yet” on a student’s report card. These two little words gave students hope that they could indeed pass if they tried again, motivating them to keep trying. Administering a failing grade to students, however, may make them feel that they are not going anywhere and more likely to “give up” rather than try again. According to Carol Dweck, the power of “not yet” gives students a path into their future and makes them feel that they are on a learning curve rather than a dead end. This powerful philosophy of positivity has driven most of Carol Dweck’s research over the course of her illustrious career.
Who is Carol Dweck?
Carol Dweck is a professor at Stanford University and the author of Mindset, a classic work on motivation and “growth mindset.” Her work is influential among educators and increasingly among business leaders as well. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.
As Carol describes it, “My work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior. My research looks at the origins of these mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes.”
What is the Growth Mindset?
According to the Mindset website, “Every so often a truly groundbreaking idea comes along. This is one.” The mindset theory explains:
- Why brains and talent don’t necessarily bring success and in fact, can stand in the way of it
- Why praising/rewarding brains and talent doesn’t foster self-esteem and accomplishment, but rather jeopardizes them
- How teaching a simple idea about the brain raises grades and productivity
After decades of research on achievement and success, Carol Dweck proposed the Growth Mindset, “a simple idea that makes all the difference.”
According to Carol’s website, in a growth mindset, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” with brains and talent being just the starting point. “This view,” the site continues “creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”
In a fixed mindset, however, “people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” According to Carol, this outlook is totally wrong.
Back in 2015, Carol Dweck and her team of researchers revisited the Growth Mindset theory and made some further startling discoveries which we, as parents and educators, can apply to the lives of our children every day. They found that student mindsets (how they perceive their abilities) played a key role in their motivation and achievement and that if they changed students’ mindsets, they could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, they found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.
In our next article on Carol Dweck and her theory of the Growth Mindset, we will look at some of the consequences of a fixed mindset and how we can encourage growth both in school and at home.