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Society for Quality Education

Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

April 19, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:09 AM

There's an interesting passage on "fixed mindsets" and "growth mindsets" in Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. People with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are basically static, while people with a growth mindset believe that with hard work people can make themselves better at things. When Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck experimented with low-income grade 7 math students, the results were dramatic.

"The control group was taught generic study skills, and the experimental group was taught the growth mindset. The growth-mindset students were taught that the brain is like a muscle that can be developed with exercise - that with work, they could get smarter. After all, Dweck told them, 'nobody laughs at babies and says how dumb they are because they can't talk.'

"Classroom mentors asked the students to think about skills they already had learned - Remember when you first stepped onto a skateboard or played Guitar Hero? - and to recall how practice had been the key to mastering those skills. Students were reminded that 'Everything is hard before it is easy,' and that they should never give up because they didn't master something immediately. In total, the students in the growth-mindlset group received two hours of 'brain is like a muscle' training over eight weeks. And the results? Astonishing.

"Students in the control group who were taught generic study skills started out their seventh-grade year with math grades at about a C+ level. Over the course of the year, their grades slipped to a C and then toward C-. The 'brain is like a muscle' training, however, stopped this slide and reversed it. The students who received it significantly outperformed their peers.

"Some students made dramatic transformations. In Mindset, Dweck reported, 'One day, we were introducing the growth mindset to a new group of students. All at once Jimmy - the most hard-core, turned-off, low-effort kid in the group - looked up with tears in his eyes and said, 'You mean I don't have to be dumb?' From that day on, he worked. He started staying up late to do his homework, which he never used to bother with at all. He started handing in assignments early so he could get feedback and revise them. These kids now believe that working hard was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.'

"The teachers, unaware of the experimental conditions their students were assigned to, were asked to identify the students who they thought had experienced a positive change during the spring term. Seventy-six percent of the students they identified were in the 'brain is like a muscle' training group."

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