Total Pageviews

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mindset & Effort (Post #3)

More implications from my reading on mindsets...

Another famous study involved testing students who had all previously performed well in Science classes. As expected, some students performed well on the test and others did not. Students' reactions to their tests were then recorded. Fixed mindset students who did poorly on the test said that they would "Study less in the future." and "Cheat to get a better score." Growth mindset students who did poorly on the test said that they would "study more before the next test" and "pay more attention in class."

For people with fixed mindsets, effort is a strange thing. People with fixed mindsets see their ability/intelligence as a constant, and so effort is usually viewed as denigrating (i.e. "If it doesn't come easily to you, then you're not good at it AND you'll never get much better, because your ability is fixed! So why try?"). Fixed mindset people tend to think that they don't need to put forth effort, because they are "naturally talented". [And they may BE naturally talented, but even talent needs practice to improve; but notice how tricky that word "improve" is, because if I have a fixed mindset, I don't really believe in substantial improvement.]

The other thing not trying offers fixed mindset people is protection: "I could've won that game, if I'd tried [or "really played"] the first half." Dweck tells the amusing story of a fixed mindset person who once said to her, "I could've been Yo-yo-ma." Not trying allows fixed mindset people with a strong belief in their own talent to live under the illusion that they could have been or done almost anything...if they had tried. As ridiculous as it is, their argument is irrefutable, because they never tried, so their statement can't be proven right or wrong, and they can go on with their lives without destroying their self-esteem.

The growth mindset perspective on effort is that it is the necessary component to success. Growth mindset people take the greatest pride in those things which they have put the most effort into. Things that are too easy for them are often considered boring. They thrive on challenges.

Mindset Implications

This is a follow-up to my previous post on "Mindsets" (I would recommend reading that before reading this).

As an educator, my interest in mindsets has to do with their implications in the classroom. Many studies have been done on fixed and growth mindset students, and there are some fascinating patterns. In one experiment, students were given puzzles to solve. After they all solved them, students were given the option of solving the same puzzle again or of trying a new, more challenging puzzle. Fixed mindset students chose to do the same puzzle over again. When asked why they chose that, they said it was because they knew they could do it, and they didn't want to risk not being able to do the more challenging puzzle. Growth mindset students chose to do the harder puzzle, because they wanted to challenge themselves and stretch themselves. This is one of the common themes of fixed versus growth mindset learners, and leads me to implication #1: Fixed mindset learners are averse to stretching their abilities and performance. They prefer to repeat tasks they know they can accomplish.

This isn't that difficult to understand. If I believe that my intelligence/performance is a fixed quantity, then every time my intelligence/ability is tested, my beliefs about myself are on the line. If I solve the puzzle quickly, then I feel good about myself, because I believe that puzzle has measured a fixed quality within me. I'm afraid to fail, because within my fixed mindset that would mean that I had a low ability/intelligence, and because I don't believe in growth, there would be nothing I could do about my low ability/intelligence. So rather than push myself to try something harder, I'll just keep performing the same easy task (solving the same easy puzzle) over and over again, to reiterate my original finding that I am successful/intelligent.

Another common practice of fixed mindset persons is blaming failure on an external factor that was somehow beyond their control. For example, a great soccer player who misses a shot may say, "The grass was wet." or "The ball was flat." Because the fixed mindset soccer player believes that his or her soccer playing ability is fixed, and if he/she missed the shot and it's his/her fault, then he/she just has a low soccer playing ability, which he/she couldn't improve. To someone with a fixed mindset, every failure is a judgement about his/her innate abilities (and often by extension, his/her worth or value), and diminishes him/her; it proves that he/she isn't that good at whatever is being measured or demonstrated.

In a growth mindset, there is no need to blame failure on external factors, because failure is an opportunity for growth. A growth mindset soccer player misses a shot, and may say, "I need to work on my foot-work." or "I need to practice shooting on the move." or "Next time I should use my other foot to make the shot." The growth mindset learner takes the failure, examines it for information about how to grow or improve, and then goes forward trying to have an impact on future performance. Implication #2: Fixed mindset learners are going to avoid failure at all costs. Growth mindset learners will embrace it as a learning potential.

Stay tuned for more mindset posts...I'm still reading and digesting Dweck's book.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I've been taking a course about learning communities as continuing professional development, and one of the topics that we've been talking about recently is called "Mindsets". Due to my interest in this topic, I'm reading a book by Carol Dweck entitled, "Mindset". What is a mindset? A mindset is an ingrained way of thinking about things; when I was in school, we called this a paradigm or schema. For the purposes of her book, Dweck identifies two main mindsets: fixed and growth. Most of Dweck's research is in relation to education and learning, and so her first interpretation of these is through that lens, but then she expands them into broader categories.

A fixed mindset person has the belief that people are basically born with a fixed amount of intelligence (or fixed personality traits, or a fixed skill set) and that this is essentially not changeable. A fixed mindset person will say, "Smart people do well on tests because they're smart." "Failure is bad." "Tests are a way to prove how smart you are." On the other hand, a growth mindset person believes that he or she can increase his/her amount of intelligence (or develop a certain personality trait or skill). He or she will say, "Smart people do well on tests because they've studied." "Failure is one way of improving." "Tests show how far you have to go before you master the skill."

Effort is one of the key results of different mindsets. Fixed mindset persons believe that they are as smart as they'll ever get, so why try studying? If they're smart they believe they'll do well without studying, and if they're not smart they believe they're not going to do well whether they study or not, so why bother? Growth mindset persons believe that effort is the pathway to improvement and mastery. They believe that they have the ability to substantially improve through practice and working at it.

In my next post, I'm going to examine some of the implications this has for education. But it's important to note that Dweck argues that mindsets can change! She has a plethora of examples of fixed mindset people shifting to a growth mindset, and she has examples of growth mindset people shifting to a fixed mindset depending on various circumstances.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


My friend Crazy Squirrel has a blog over at WordPress (People in my Backpack), and I highly recommend you swing by and check it out! She teaches with me, but her focus is in the special education field. She has lots of funny and insightful comments!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Overdue Update

First of my one follower, my apologies for not having posted in a while. I'm making it a goal to get better at posting more often. I am a teacher though, and so there are times (during the school year) when I get busy with other things.

Secondly, I'm going to expand this blog a bit to talk about things other than the 100 greatest books. I'm not abandoning my original concept; rest assured that I will still post about my reading and insight into the 100 greatest books. But I realized that part of the reason I didn't post more was because the things I had to say weren't related to the original topic of this blog. Well, now I'm just going to let go and write away.