Mastering Mindsets for Maximum Learning

The New Psychology of Success (2006) by the major researcher in the field, renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research has shown that your students’ mindsets are one of the most important factors impacting their achievement. As such, this is one factor that master teachers don’t leave to chance.

First of all, for those of you who aren’t very familiar with the mindsets research conducted by Dweck and others, here’s a quick recap of the main findings. In her research, Dweck identified two basic “mindsets” that impact virtually everything we do (and not just in school). These two mindsets are (1) the fixed mindset and (2) the growth mindset.

People who have a fixed mindset hold a deep-seating belief that one’s qualities–cognitive ability and personality traits both–are carved in stone and are thus virtually unchangeable. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset have a deep-seated belief that the hand you’re dealt by genetics and your life situation is only a starting point and that your qualities are things you can cultivate through effort.

Why is this important for educators? Well, let’s say you have a student who has a fixed mindset, and let’s further say that he has been praised throughout his life for his intelligence. Such a student becomes invested in this persona of himself as “smart.” Now, let’s say you assign a challenging class project, and the student’s work is not top-notch. Let’s say he scores a C, or even a B. What will be his response?

He might blame the assignment or teacher, saying the assignment was “dumb.” Or he may feign nonchalance and tell anyone who will listen that he just didn’t try. After all, if he really did try and he did not receive an A, that might call into question how smart he is. Rather than change his view of himself (his mindset), he looks for an excuse. Does this sound familiar? Sure! We’ve all had such students and heard such excuses.

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