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Sunday, April 29, 2012

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.

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