The Power of Developing a Growth Mindset

Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck is one of the  world’s leading authorities on developing a ‘growth mindset’. This powerful mindset was sited by fellow professor Angela Duckworth as one of the greatest ways to develop the indispensable characteristic of ‘grit‘. Today, we review the key points from professor Dweck’s 2014 TED Talk discussing the ways student can develop a growth mindset.

The Power of ‘Not Yet’

To begin her talk, professor Dweck relates an anecdote from a high school in Chicago where students received a grade ‘not yet’ instead of failing. To professor Dweck, this is an extremely encouraging way to grade a student who has not yet passed as it suggest the student is on the right path, they have just not yet reached the destination.

The Growth Mindset

According to professor Dweck, this event lead to a critical insight early on in her career. At the time professor Dweck was interested in learning how children coped with challenge. So she went to a school in Chicago and gave ten years-olds a test that was slightly too difficult for them. To professor Dweck’s surprise, many of the students reacted in a positive way to the exam stating they loved a challenge. According to professor Dweck, the children who responded in this way had what she calls a ‘growth mindset’. According to professor Dweck, this is the belief that their abilities could be developed.

The Fixed Mindset

However, not all students had this. Other students who believed they were unable to complete the task would shut-down. This was a result of their having a ‘fixed mindset’. This fixed mindset was a belief that they wouldn’t be able to rise to the challenge. As a result these students claimed that in the future instead of studying, they would be resort to cheating, or simply identifying students who did worse than them in order to make themselves feel better. According to professor Dweck, in study after study, these children ran from challenges.

The Differences in Brain Activity

At this point, professor Dweck shows images of the mental activity in the brains of both types of students when faced with a challenge. In students with a fixed mindset – the ones who believed they were not up for the challenge – there was almost no brain activity at all. But in the students who had a growth mindset, there was a very large degree of mental activity as they were actively engaged and attempting to finding a solution to the challenge. According to professor Dweck, these children’s minds were on fire with ‘yet’.

How to Raise More Resilient Children

According to professor Dweck, often she hears from companies that the current generation entering the workforce needs praise and recognition on an alomst daily basis. According to professor Dweck, this stems from the way they were raised. In order to raise more well-rounded individuals, professor Dweck suggests several solutions.

The Power of Praising Wisely

The first thing professor Dweck suggests is to ‘praise wisely’. By this, it is suggested that praising the process more than the results. In other words, praising a child when they are engaging in the process of problem solving and resilience. According to professor Dweck, this will instill in a child the idea that engaging with a problem in order to find a solution is an effort worthy of celebrating.

Praising Wisely Put Into Practice

In order to do this, professor Dweck and her colleagues developed a game that attempted to teach students math by rewarding the process. Where traditional math games rewarded students who got the right answer, professor Dweck’s game rewarded the use of effort, strategy, and progress.  According to professor Dweck, this game resulted in more effort, more strategies, and more engagement over longer periods of time to find solutions, along with more perseverance when students hit really hard problems. According to professor Dweck, just using the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet’ gives students a greater path into the future, and better persistence. Oftentimes in inner city schools, or schools that have traditionally done as well, there can be a sense that doing poorly is inevitable. However, when these attitudes are replaced with environments supportive of growth mindsets and a culture steeped in ‘yet’ these schools have seen unbelievable turn-arounds. To demonstrate this fact, professor Dweck sites a failing school in the Bronx that went to #1 in the state, and an Native American reservation in Seattle that went from last place, to performing better than any other district, including the affluent areas where the employee of Microsoft were sending their children.

The Power of Transforming the Meaning of Effort and Difficulty

According to professor Dweck, this happened because the meanings of effort and difficulty were transformed. Previously, effort and difficulty made these students feel dumb. However, after implementing this new approach, effort and difficulty were seen as positive and desirable because it was at these times their brains were making new connections and they were getting smarter.

‘Yet’: A Basic Human Right

All of this is based on solid scientific research. But knowing is not going far enough. Once we know that a student’s ability is capable of such heights and such growth, it becomes a basic human right for all children to live in a place that creates this growth; it becomes a basic human right for all children to grow up in an environment that is a place filled with ‘yet’.

 

 

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