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Mindset is an idea by Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (3). She has spent over four decades researching the types of beliefs that bring about success in school, career and life.

People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence and talent are fixed traits that cannot be improved. Therefore, they are less likely to try to develop these traits. They believe that their talent and intelligence should not require effort and they lack perseverance when faced with difficult challenges. They think that the need for a lot of effort means that one is not smart and therefore it is better to not try and risk failure or to look dumb.

Those with a growth mindset believe their talent and intelligence can be increased through effort and by working hard at a task. Therefore, they love learning, enjoy challenges and they persevere toward long-term goals. They do not see mistakes or errors as failure, but as feedback for how to improve and succeed. They believe the effort to learn and succeed at difficult tasks increases their intelligence. These are characteristics of successful people.

CAN A GROWTH MINDSET BE TAUGHT?

The good news is that Dr. Dweck’s years of research have demonstrated that a growth mindset can be taught and learned. The result on the part of learners is increased motivation, productivity and success.

GRIT

One characteristic of successful people and students is grit. Research by Angela Duckworth (2), psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated that grit is important for the accomplishment of long-term goals. However, it may not be so easy to directly teach people how to develop grit. From my review of research studies and my own observations of students I believe that grit is a by-product of a growth mindset. In other words, grit is likely to increase when students are taught and acquire a growth mindset.

One aspect of grit is academic perseverance which is the ability to work hard and smart for a long period of time. For example, the completion of a college education usually requires academic tenacity. Helping students to develop a growth mindset is one way to increase academic perseverance and performance.

MINDSET PLUS STUDY SKILLS RESEARCH

In one study (1) with seventh graders who were struggling in math, the students were divided into two groups.

Both groups of students were taught excellent study skills. One group was also taught about a growth mindset and ideas for developing it. The math performance and grades of the students who were taught only study skills continued to decline over a two-year period. The math performance and grades of students who learned both study skills and a growth mindset continued to improve over the two-year period.

In another study (6), fixed mindset students with higher SAT scores did more poorly in four years of college than those with a growth mindset and lower SAT scores, had less self-esteem and were less persistent.

Without a growth mindset, students are less likely to have the motivation to apply good study skills and strategies. Teaching students how to study and learn is important, but they also need the mindset to make use of this ability.

GROWTH MINDSET AND NON-COGNITIVE SKILLS

Students need to be taught how to develop a growth mindset combined with higher-level thinking cognitive skills and non-cognitive skills. Higher-level thinking includes critical and creative thinking skills. Non-cognitive skills include goal setting, time management and other self-regulatory skills. When students have a growth mindset, they can make better use of cognitive and non-cognitive skills which is usually a recipe for academic, career and life success.

University of Chicago researchers reviewed years of research studies (5) on factors which enhance student success. They concluded that academic perseverance and performance improves when students are taught to develop positive mindsets and are also taught effective learning strategies. They found that student perseverance is a by-product of academic mindsets and metacognition and self-regulatory skills.

In Carol Dweck’s book, Self-Theories: The Role in Motivation, Personality and Development (4), she says “The hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort and they persist in the face of obstacles.” This is the result of a growth mindset which enhances a strong work ethic.

TEACHING A GROWTH MINDSET

What are some strategies that educators can use to help students to develop a growth mindset? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Praise effort and not intelligence. Praise a good job that included hard work. Praise strategies, perseverance and improvement.
  • Teach students about the plasticity of the brain and that they will increase their intelligence when they work hard at learning difficult material.
  • Have students set a challenging goal and work hard to accomplish it. Then ask them to reflect on how the hard work paid off.
  • Ask them to write about a past success and to reflect on the work that went in to this achievement.
  • Ask students to write a paper for younger students who will come after them, and explain what they learned about a growth mindset and intelligence.
  • Have students research one of their heroes to find out if he or she was born great or whether their hero had to work hard, practice and overcome obstacles.
  • Ask former students who used to struggle, but who are now doing well, to share their success stories with your class. Consider having the former students make short videos of themselves and their stories that you can show in class or students can watch later at home.
MAKING A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE

I believe that about 80% of success (or failure) has to do with our mindset. A growth mindset contributes to success and a fixed mindset makes failure more likely.

As educators we must teach students not only academic content, but also non-cognitive skills and the beliefs needed for success. Carol Dweck (4) puts it this way, “As adults our mission is to equip the next generations with the tools they need to live a life of growth and contribution.”

 

References:

  1. Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H.,and Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78. 246-263, Study 1.)
  2. Duckworth, Angela, Peterson, Christopher. Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007. Vol.92. No. 6. 1087-1101.
  3. Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books. 2007.
  4. Dweck, Carol. Self-Theories: The Role of Motivation, Personality and Development. Psychology Press. 2000.
  5. Farrington, Camile A., Roderick, Melissa, Allensworth, Elaine, Nagaoka, Jenny, Keyes, Tasha Seneca, Johnson, David W. and Beechum, Nicole. Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review: 2012.
  6. Robins, R.W. and Pals.J.L. (2002). Implicit self-theories in the academic domain: Implications for goal orientation, attributions, affect, and self-esteem change. Self-and Identity, 1, 313-336.
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An adjunct professor of college and career success courses at Austin Community College. He is author of Achieve College Success and Achieve Career Success and trains educators how to teach these strategies.