If you ask most teachers, they can identify a major characteristic that successful students possess. Successful students see themselves as capable of growing! In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck explained her on-going research about how successful students see school. Dweck and her colleagues found that both teachers and students tend to have one of two mindsets about how school works. Those with a “fixed mindset” tend to see intelligence and talent are fixed and cannot be improved. People are born with a fixed amount of intelligence or talent which does not change. Those with a “growth mindset” tend to see intelligence and talent as things that can grow with practice and effort.
Students with a fixed mindset are often convinced of how intelligent or talented they are. The “I’m very smart” or “I’m very athletic” attitude sometimes has unintended consequences. Dweck and her associates found that those students often viewed their mistakes as evidence that contradicted their impression of themselves. They became students who avoided risk and chose the “easy path” rather than appear “less smart.” They tried, at all costs, not to jeopardize teacher’s impressions. They also tended to see hard work as a negative: “If I have to work hard at something it might mean that I’m not smart.” In their fast-paced, electronic world, anything that takes time and practice is something to be avoided. The fixed mindset can also affect students who see themselves as “dumb.” Those students tend to what is sometimes termed as “learned helplessness.” The internal conversation is often, “No matter what I do you won’t be happy with it, so why should I try.”
Students with a growth mindset, on the other hand, saw mistakes as a way to learn, a way to improve. They did not see effort as a negative characteristic, but rather the true path to success and improvement. Dweck conducted an experiment to test their theory. The gave a group of fourth grade students an easy IQ test. All of the students did well. Half of the students were told, “You did very well; you must be really smart.” The other students were told, “You did very well; you must have worked very hard on this.” In the next part of the experiment, the same students were given a choice for the activity. They were told that they could pick an activity that was very similar to the first one, or they could choose a harder activity that would help them to learn. The students who were praised for their intelligence overwhelmingly chose the “safe” choice, while those who were praised for their effort overwhelmingly chose the more difficult activity. The third activity in the experiment was a very difficult task on which neither of the groups succeeded. In the final activity, both groups were given a task similar to the first one. The “fixed mindset group,” scored worse than they did on the first activity. The “growth mindset” group scored higher than they did on the original task. You can view a video description of this experiment below: Or click this link here