Article: Boosting Achievement With Messages That Motivate
Author: Carol S. Dweck
Article Reading Time: 10 minutes (5 pages)
"The most motivated and resilient students are not the ones who think that they have a lot of fixed or innate intelligence. Instead, the most motivated and resilient students are the ones who believe their abilities can be developed through their effort and learning."
This is a summary of some of the important findings around the importance of mindset in achievement. There are two categories of mindset that people can posses:
Fixed Mindset - believe that intelligence is fixed by our genetics.
Growth Mindset - believe that intelligence is fluid and can be improved through effort and hard work.
Through the article, Dweck states four "rules" that govern how those with each type of mindset work. Lets look at each in turn.
The cardinal rule is - "Look smart at all costs".
The other rules are:
Don't make mistakes - these show a lack of intelligence/ability. If you fail in the first test, then that subject is not for you.
Don't work hard - if you have to work hard at something, then you lack the ability in that subject.
If you make mistakes, don't try to repair them - there is nothing to be gained from spending time correcting mistakes.
"The idea that high effort equals low ability is one of the worst beliefs students can have. It is virtually impossible to do anything worthwhile without sustained effort."
The cardinal rule is - "Learn".
The other rules are:
Take on challenges - don't waste time on things I can already do, I want to learn new things and get better.
Work hard - "The harder you work at something, the better you'll be at it."
Confront your deficiencies and correct them - might be disappointed in a poor performance, but will work to improve and correct mistakes.
What does this mean for teachers?
Dweck then goes on to discuss the implications for teaching, in particular looking at how we praise students. The studies here found that students who received praise of their ability, intelligence or grade adopted a fixed mindset. Those receiving praise for process (effort, strategies, choices, concentration, persistence) adopted a growth mindset.
"Make no mistake - children loved the intelligence praise. They smiled broadly and seemed proud of themselves. It really made the testers feel as though they had given the children something valuable. But Our finding told a different story."
In terms of motivation, those with a growth mindset are more likely to persist, to want to learn new things and in the end achieve better. So we as teachers should be doing what we can to foster this mindset.
Finally, Dweck refers to a study which shows that if a teacher has a fixed mindset with regards to ability, then this will become the mindset of the students. Hence it is important that we as teachers believe that students can improve their achievement through hard work and persistence.
The work of Dweck on Growth mindset is vast. Despite knowing a lot about it, this is the first time I have actually read something by Dweck herself. The clear message is that we want our students to develop a growth mindset as this will help them learn better.
Looking back at the four "rules" for each type of mindset, think about the students in your classes. Which do they fit in? My experience of our students is that most have a very fixed mindset (towards Maths anyway). This mostly shows in the fact that they do not want to make mistakes, and see mistakes as a bad thing, rather than a learning tool.
But why have they developed this fixed mindset? Some of the compounding factors may be:
People saying they were always bad at Maths (parents, siblings, teachers). This is probably the most hated phrase by all Maths teachers (closely followed by "When will we ever use this?"). When students constantly hear things like this, is it any surprise they think people are either good at Maths or bad at Maths?
Praising of achievement rather than effort. Whenever we congratulate a student for their results rather than the work they did they are given the message that it is only the end result that matters. If the result is all that matters, why would you want to work hard, and why would mistakes be something you can learn from as it is too late?
People talking about "smart" or "able" children, or even suggesting there is such a thing as innate genius. If students are led to believe that ability is something you are born with, why would they work to improve themselves? In this worldview, you want to be seen as successful without having to work, as that means you are "smart". Even people like Einstein had to work very hard to get to where they were. People like to think it was because he had a special brain, but it was actually just a lot of hard work and slowly building up his knowledge.
And what can we do about it as classroom teachers?
The whole message of this article is to praise effort/perseverance/concentration rather than ability or grades. This shows students there are more important things in life than grades.
Watch what we say in front of students, and never suggest that ability is fixed. One of the most interesting findings is that a teacher who has a fixed mindset will instill this in their students subconsciously. We need to accept that "ability" is not something students are born with, but rather a lack of prior knowledge that can be improved through hard work.