Osiris Staffroom article by Professor Carol Dweck

Professor Carol S. Dweck talks exlusively to Osiris about Mindsets and why she cannot wait to share her research with UK schools.


I am very much looking forward to speaking at the Osiris Mindsets Conference this summer because the “mindset message” is more important than ever.

For too long, educators assumed that teaching was only about imparting knowledge. Of course, it was desirable that the knowledge be imparted well – in a clear and interesting way – and if this were done, then the educator’s job was over.

However, now we know that students’ mindsets play a critical role in whether they learn well or not. This means that a key factor in teaching well is promoting the mindset that helps children care about learning, enjoy and value effort, and persist in the face of difficulty. Research shows that when students adopt this mindset, they become more motivated and show increased achievement.


The Mindsets


What are these mindsets and how do they work? In my research, I have identified two mindsets that students can have about their intelligence. When students have a fixed mindset, they believe that their intelligence is just a fixed trait – something they simply have and cannot change. This mindset makes students perpetually anxious about how much intelligence they actually have. Before trying a task, they ask themselves: Will I look clever? Will I look dumb? If there’s any chance of looking dumb, they may close their minds and withdraw their effort. This is true even for many previously high-achieving students.


Growth Mindsets in Students


When students have a growth mindset, however, they believe that their intellectual abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies and good instruction. As a result, their number one goal is learning. Why waste time worrying about looking clever when you could be becoming more clever? When given the choice, students with a growth mindset want challenging tasks they can learn from rather than tasks that could highlight their existing abilities.

The two mindsets differ in other important ways. Students with a fixed mindset hate effort. It makes them feel dumb. They believe that if you have ability, you shouldn’t need effort. They also wilt or become defensive when they encounter setbacks. To them, setbacks cast doubt on their (fixed) level of ability. You can see how not liking effort and giving up in the face of difficulty could impair students’ learning.

Students with a growth mindset have a completely different attitude toward effort and setbacks. They value both of them as important factors in learning. If you don’t exert effort or profit from your mistakes, you won’t learn as much.


Mindsets Affect Students’ Achievement


Research has shown that students who have a growth mindset earn higher grades and do better on achievement tests. But even more important, research shows that teaching students a growth mindset raises their grades and achievement test scores. We have shown this in both the US and the UK. What are the ways in which we can promote a growth mindset in our students?


Promoting a growth mindset

In my talks at the Osiris Mindsets Conference, I will discuss what teachers and parents can do to foster a growth mindset. Here, I will just outline a few key practices. One way to promote a growth mindset is through the praise we use. Our research has yielded surprising findings here. It tells us that praising students’ intelligence backfires: it creates a fixed mindset and all of its vulnerabilities.

This goes against conventional wisdom, so what should we praise?

The answer is that we should praise the process that students engage in. This means giving praise or encouragement for the strategies students use as they work on a problem or assignment; the effort they are putting forth in their work; the choosing of challenging rather than easy tasks; or their persistence in the face of difficulty. Our recent work shows that process praise to babies (one-to-three years of age) predicts their mindset and desire to challenge five years later.

Mindsets can also be taught directly. Our online program ‘Brainology’ (available at bit.ly/MindsetWorks), for example, teaches students about the brain and how it changes with learning. Through experiments, exercises and other interactive activities, they learn that every time they stretch out of their comfort zone to learn new things, the neurons in their brains form new connections and they can get smarter. And they learn how to apply this to their schoolwork. Students are very motivated by the image of their neurons growing new connections as they learn new things!


Looking Forward

I hope I will meet many of you this summer at the Osiris Mindsets Conference, and have the chance to hear about your experiences and answer your questions in person. I think we can all look forward to growing many new personal and neural connections there. SR


Written by
Professor Carol S. Dweck

Carol is a world-leading expert and researcher in the field of motivation and Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities.

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