Monday, July 18, 2011

Dweck's "Mindset"- Review and what it means for schools

A couple months back I read Carol Dweck's "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." I was interested in it from both an educator and parent point of view. I had read some articles summarizing what it was all about and they intrigued me. Here's a quick summary, review, and some pieces I pulled out for thinking about how this info can help schools:


The book hinges on the idea that it is our mindset, not just our abilities and talent, that leads to our success. The basic idea is that there are two types of mindsets you can adopt- fixed or growth. The fixed mindset, she explains, is when you view your talents, abilities, or intelligence as something that is innate and cannot be improved upon. Either you're smart or not. You can either do art or you can't. And all the practice in the world would not help the situation.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, views ability, talent, and intelligence as highly malleable things. Folks who have the growth mindset see that through hard work and perseverance, you can improve in just about any area you choose to improve in. If you can't do something correctly, it's not that you don't have the ability, it's that you need to work at it more to improve. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities instead of failures. The growth mindset leads to a more fulfilling view of life and learning.

In short- fixed BAD. Growth GOOD.


I enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly agree with it's central premise. I've seen in myself, others, and my students that those that employ the fixed mindset are much more likely to give up, not try harder problems, and to view themselves through labels. The research Dweck outlines to show the power of these different mindsets is very compelling and jives with what I've seen with my own eyes. This book helped me make sense of my world and my students' worlds, and will help me push my students and children more towards a growth mindset.

The only negative I have about this book would be it's repetitiveness. The message is clear and cogent from the very beginning but then is just hammered home over...and over...and over... I would have liked more strategies of how to move from fixed mindset to growth, rather than simply rehashing "Fixed BAD, Growth GOOD" throughout each chapter.

Takeaways for school

  • The first overall takeaway is that schools need to be places where students aren't labeled one way or another, where mistakes are truly viewed as learning opportunities, and where growth is pushed for students in many different areas, rather than a heavy focus on "the basics".
  • The wave of differentiation as practiced in many schools may have some harmful side affects. On p. 64, Dweck writes "Most often when kids are behind- say, when they're repeating a grade - they're given dumbed-down material on the assumption they can't handle more....the results are depressing." This really makes me think about how we differentiate for students by dumbing down assignments, tests, and class work. Are we really doing them any favors by letting them have 2 choices instead of 4 on a multiple choice test? By simply having less spelling words? By lowering the bar? In my opinion, instead of viewing differentiation as an opportunity to dumb down the work, true differentiation should be aimed at giving different approaches to content (instead of limiting it). We should be enriching instead of dumbing down. We should be giving choices to students of different paths to mastery.
  • More unintended negative effects of standardized testing. On p. 66, Dweck tells of research done of German teachers to see how their mindsets affected their view of their students. Teachers with a fixed mindset took a careful look at their students scores from the previous year and automatically made judgments and predictions for their success in their class the coming year. As I thought about this, this could be an extremely damaging side effect from all the testing we're subjected to in the U.S. The more we test students, the more they become numbers and growth charts instead of children. Teachers are pushed to be "data driven", which I'm sure has made more and more teachers look at their students in fixed ways- "This student came in scoring here and we can predict that they will end up HERE." In my state of North Carolina, this is common practice. Teachers are told at the beginning of the year how much growth each child is expected to make. I can't help but wonder how subconsciously damaging that way of viewing kids is.
  • On pages 71-76, Dweck talks about labeling and it's powerful negative impact. Students that identify with a label that they are not smart will inherently affix it to themselves in whatever tasks they do at school. Labels lead to fixed-mindset behaviors such as seeing themselves as failures/not smart, etc. It makes me wonder how much damage we do by pulling students out for resource classes. It makes me wonder how much damage we do by pulling EC students out to separate rooms to test them. Before they even begin the test, they've already been fully given the impression that they're not as smart as the rest of the kids. I also wonder if the reverse angle is true- when we identify students as gifted are we damaging them as well in the long run? If they come to see themselves as intellectually gifted, might that lead to a fixed mindset as well? When they finally encounter difficulty in their studies, will they have the perseverance to push through as another child who was not labeled as "smart"?

My main takeaway from this book is that schools need to be environments that are free of labels of all kinds, where mistakes are cherished as learning opportunities, and where effort is seen as the cornerstone of success.

Learn, push, grow!


Mr. Ackerman said...

you're right one. . the book si very good, but it does repeat itself after the first half.

Mike said...

Dweck's ideas are very powerful. I blogged about how her ideas apply to principals leading teachers. Here's a link to where I blogged about 6 things principals can do to change a Fixed Mindset in one of the teachers they lead.

Thanks for sharing this summary!