Saturday, December 10, 2016

Recipe for a Growth Mindset

I have been spending some time with Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and Jo Boaler (both Stanford University Professors) lately, reading each author's book on mindset and its effect on learning. Dweck, a Courtesy Professor in Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, has done extensive research on learning within a fixed versus a growth mindset. 
A person with a fixed mindset believes that talent and innate ability drive success. A student with this belief will not try if he is convinced that math is his weakness, because working will not make a significant difference. However, a person with a growth mindset believes that expending effor makes all the difference. So if a student has a growth mindset, hard work on difficult math problems make math achievement more than possible, it is  likely.

Why is this important?

For students, teachers, and parents, the insights about a fixed- versus a growth-mindset have implications for our success in school and beyond. In one of Dweck's studies, with two groups of students working on math problems, one was praised for intelligence (fixed-mindset group), whereas the other was praised for effort (growth-mindset group). In this study, when the fixed-mindset group that had been praised for intelligence attempted more difficult problems, students gave up. In fact, members of the group were not able to complete the same level of problems as before receiving praise. However, students in the growth-mindset group, were willing to attempt challenging problems, not viewing the difficulty of the problems indicative of their intelligence (Dweck, p. 71-72).

Here is the significant point: Praising students for intelligence inhibits their willingness to risk failure, which would prove their lack of intelligence. The risks and failure needed to build intelligence are avoided by those with a fixed mindset. However, those with a growth mindset are willing to risk failure and learn in the process.

WIFM: What's in it for me? (and those around me...)

As an instructional coach, I can find a way to share this with administrators and teachers at the sites where I work, supporting students in the process. As a parent, I can recognize efforts of my children, rather than praising their intelligence. As a spouse, I can laugh at my failings, working harder to be a better partner, even after 30 years of practice. As a person, I can take risks and laugh at failure, knowing that it is simply the indication that I am attempting the difficult, which helps me grow as a person.

What is nice for me is that this focus on a growth mindset extends beyond my own locus of control to encompass work that is taking place at the school district where I work. I'm excited to see how this change in culture of leaders, teachers, and yes students will affect student learning in the near future. For more information, read their books! Also, Boaler has an active public Facebook Group: Jo Boaler's How to Learn Math which is worth exploring.


Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students' potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; a Wiley Brand. 

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House. 

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