It is probably one of the most-quoted books in the last ten years. And for good reasons. It has helped us make sense of the differences between intelligence and smart thinking, and how growth as a mindset is a likely path for building grit, but, as Angela Duckworth said, we do need more:
The correlation isn't perfect, but this suggests to me that one of the things that makes you gritty is having a growth mind-set. The attitude “I can get better if I try harder” should help make you a tenacious, determined, hard-working person.
In theory, the work that Carol has done to show that you can change your mind-set would also be relevant to changing your grit. We're developing an intervention, inspired by her work, to look at making students aware of the value of deliberate practice, the kind of effortful practice that really improves skills.
In Carol's work, she shows kids scientific evidence of brain plasticity—the fact that peoples' brains change with experience. Although at first they might respond to frustration and failure by thinking, “I should just give up; I can't do this,” Carol uses testimonials from other students to show kids that those feelings and beliefs, as strong as they are, can change.
The book in question is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by psychologist Carol Dweck.
The central thesis of the book is that individuals who believe they can grow, tend to enjoy challenges. Our ability to grow depends upon our ability to shift from a fixed mindset — we are who we are and our wins are attached to that identity — to a growth mindset, which is based on on the belief that our basic qualities are things we can cultivate through our efforts. In turn, this creates a passion for learning.
but as she watched the “growth mindset” become more popular, Dweck became aware of the limitations with its implementation. In a recent article she shares what they have learned. It applies to education, but it also applies more broadly to learning (emphasis mine):
A growth mindset isn’t just about effort.
Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.
We score no points for trying, effort is a means to an end. The outcome is learning and improving and we demonstrate that through using our knowledge in practical applications or as a building block for a model of thinking that can serve us in sorting out problems. Recognition feels good, but we should not dwell on it. Says Dweck:
The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”
Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them.
Sometimes we may even feel justified in explaining away when someone is not learning, saying they have a fixed mindset. The environment and ability should also be areas to consider changing and improving. Instead of focusing on the mindset or finding a reason for it, Dweck advocates for working on helping make learning a priority.
There is also the danger of confusing the label with the follow through necessary:
In recent research, Kathy Liu Sun found that there were many math teachers who endorsed a growth mindset and even said the words “growth mindset” in their middle school math classes, but did not follow through in their classroom practices. In these cases, their students tended to endorse more of a fixed mindset about their math ability.
My advisee and research collaborator Kyla Haimovitz and I are finding many parents who endorse a growth mindset, but react to their children’s mistakes as though they are problematic or harmful, rather than helpful. In these cases, their children develop more of a fixed mindset about their intelligence.
The solution is simpler than we might thing, she says. We should acknowledge the fixed mindset:
Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset. Let’s acknowledge that
(1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets,
(2) we will probably always be, and
(3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.
And learn to recognize our triggers. Dweck suggests watching out for feelings of undue anxiety, feeling incompetent or defeated, looking for excuses, becoming defensive, angry, or crushed instead of interested in learning from the feedback. Are we are envious or feel threatened or are we eager to learn? We should acknowledge those emotions and continue working through them.
Developing a “growth mindset” is a process, not a judgement. We can't be right all the time, but we can learn to operate in open mode, understanding that we get better by going through the experience of doing things.