If you are a teacher, consider the students you have taught in your career. If you are not a teacher, consider yourself or your peers you went to school with. Chances are you have known students who are not easily discouraged. When they encounter difficulty in learning, they bear down and try harder, or they employ a different approach, or they look to an expert for advice to help them. Their mindset is one of: “I will get this, no matter what it takes.” Conversely, we are also familiar with the student who, in face of failure, gives up. He seems convinced that he is incapable of acquiring and demonstrating the learning; so, he is apt to make excuses for his lack of success–or worse–avoid challenges altogether. His mindset is one of: “Effort is fruitless; why should I bother?” The two mindsets exemplified here are the growth versus the fixed mindset.
In her seminal book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck shares with readers a useful tool for adopting a growth mindset is inserting the word “yet.” It isn’t that the practitioner of the growth mindset cannot do something; it’s that he cannot do it yet. This little word has the power to transform our outlook from one of predetermined futility to hopeful possibility.
We are saddened by the defeat with which certain students approach tasks they believe to be beyond their ability due to their own doubts, and often society’s reinforcement, about what they are capable of. This mindset is responsible for not only students not reaching their full potential, but probably it attributes to discipline issues. When a child struggles and fails at first and is not supported and emboldened by “yet” he is more likely to disengage.
Even students who are accustomed to success should be wary of the fixed mindset. Dweck alludes to a phenomenon in our culture (and others) in which innate ability to perform a task or grasp a concept is admired and praised, whereas toil and effort are looked upon with a hint of shame. I have no idea why this way of thinking exists/persists, but it does, and I’m guilty of it, too. We would rather beam and clasp our hands in wonder at the “golden child” to whom it comes easy than demonstrate profound appreciation for the person who failed, struggled, struggled some more, and was able to achieve. This societal fixed mindset not only discourages the struggling student, but it is dangerous for the successful student as well. Why? Because, as we all know, no one is successful always. And when the usually successful student fails, the fixed mindset brands him a failure.
Consider how adopting the growth mindset might help to limit students’ preoccupation with grades. Hopefully, it can encourage them to broaden their learning objectives and attempt tackling fields of study that will stretch them, even though they may not be able to demonstrate mastery as quickly or easily. For this to happen, we as education leaders need to stress this within our PLCs and school boards and state education agencies as much as with our students.
To better understand the growth mindset, take a look at a Prezi I created here:
View a presentation by Carol Dweck “Developing the Growth Mindset” in which she discusses the power of “yet.”