The power of a growth mindset: Part one
For the last couple of generations, parents and educators have been encouraged to recognise and reward achievement in children. Positive reinforcement was seen as the way to motivate learning, and at the time that meant celebrating what each child was good at. Some children were good at maths, while others showed ability in writing, arts or sport and so on. It was also widely accepted that each child has a particular level of intelligence and the important thing was achieving to their perceived potential.
The belief that intelligence is more or less static and some children are simply smarter than others, either in general or in a particular field, is referred to as a ‘fixed mindset’.
What is a growth mindset?
A growth mindset is based on the belief that intelligence is not static, but something you can develop. The idea came from Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University. Her lifetime of research into mindsets identified and explored the opposition between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
Carol Dweck found that people with a fixed mindset want to appear smart. To achieve this, they tend to avoid challenges, give up easily when things get difficult (often saying it’s too boring), see sustained effort as pointless (you’re either good at something or you’re not), ignore critical feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result their achievement stops growing quite early, never reaching its true potential and they develop a deterministic view of the world.
Rather than focusing on looking clever, people with a growth mindset want to learn. This means they like challenges, keep trying when things get difficult, realise that effort can lead to success, welcome critical feedback, and take lessons and inspiration from the success of others. As a result they achieve at higher and higher levels and develop a greater sense of freedom to pursue whatever they choose.
Is there any science to support it?
When we try to learn something new it can be difficult because our brain is building new connections between neurons. Repeating and practicing new skills or knowledge eventually creates permanent pathways in the brain that allows us to continue using them. In other words, ability can be learned if we persevere.
The same applies to switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. At first it is challenging, but if we continue with a fixed mindset approach it will only become stronger. By learning and repeatedly practising growth mindset approaches, we CAN strengthen them until they eventually become automatic.
How do you develop a growth mindset in children?
Carol Dweck’s research found that the way we praise children has a strong influence on the mindset they develop. If we praise a child by saying “well done, you are really good at that” we reinforce a fixed mindset, but saying “well done, you must have tried really hard” will reinforce a growth mindset.
When you give a child something to do and they complete it with ease, you can encourage a growth mindset by saying “I’m sorry, I’ve wasted your time by giving you something too easy, let me find something more challenging."
In one of Carol Dweck’s studies, children were given puzzles to complete. One group was given fixed mindset feedback and the other received growth mindset feedback. When later offered a choice of puzzles, the fixed mindset group tended to choose easier puzzles in order to succeed and appear ‘good at them.' The growth mindset group, however, chose more challenging puzzles and persevered with them. Eventually both groups were asked to complete a very challenging puzzle. The growth mindset group persevered longer and enjoyed themselves more, while the fixed mindset group became frustrated and gave up. Both groups were then asked to complete a puzzle similar to the very first one. The ability of the growth mindset group had increased significantly while those who had received fixed mindset praise actually performed worse than they did originally. When the children had to report back to the group on how they got on with this final puzzle, some of the fixed mindset group even lied about their performance in order to continue looking good.
Do you want to know whether your child has a growth mindset?
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Watch for our next blog on this topic - The power of a growth mindset: Part two.
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