The growth mindset being a “fad” is a message that’s been overwhelming my twitter feed lately (“Schools are desperate to teach growth mindset but it’s based on a lie” or “Is mindset theory really in trouble?”). Based on the publication dates, I’m pretty sure that the research has been questioned for a while but I’ve clearly been ignoring it and living in my own little growth mindset loving bubble. I was shocked to find that even Dweck herself has been quoted as saying “we’ve totally missed the point” (Quartz, 2016).
My immediate response was that this applied to other schools and other teachers that hadn’t really embraced the growth mindset. Of course my kids know what the growth mindset is – after all it’s practically weaved into our school culture. I decided to do a bit of investigating about what my kids thought the key features of a growth mindset were and these were the results:
I was almost too embarrassed to post this. My kids had no bloody idea. And the more I read, the more I realised that I had no idea either. I think part of the issue is that there are just SO many articles, videos and ideas that have spawned from the growth mindset. I genuinely had to go back to the original research papers to clarify what it was that originally defined the growth mindset. FYI the best summary for me is:
“People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” (Dweck, 1999, 2007).
Growth mindset isn’t about working hard or having high expectations or being resilient or being flexible. It’s just about understanding that you always have the potential to improve and that you have no idea of how far you can take something if you put all your efforts and passion into it.
Does this mean we have to be improving at everything all the time? Hell no! I definitely don’t have that much energy…Sometimes we decide to not put our effort into something – but we can still have a growth mindset if believe that we have the potential to improve. It’s the difference between “I will always be a terrible artist” vs. “At the moment I’m a terrible artist and I’m okay with that”.
Does this mean that if I put in energy and I don’t improve then I’ve found my peak? Also no! If no improvements are seen then that just means that you’re putting effort into the wrong things. I get the impression that the “growth mindset is about encouraging effort” summaries are the ones that annoy Dweck the most. If a kid puts in effort to making their notes look beautiful but their understanding is still only basic should that be praised? Not really…. We can’t praise effort if the activity didn’t yield any quality learning – otherwise the value of our praise diminishes.
I broadly classified myself as “growth mindset”. After all I always have high expectations for my students and believe that they can improve drastically if they’re making efforts in the right places. But growth mindset isn’t all about what you think about the kids, it’s mostly about how you approach your own learning. Once I started to evaluate many aspects of my life I realised that actually there are several areas I didn’t feel were improvable.
Check out this list that I created for a recent professional development talk. Do any of them resonate with you?
For me, as I become more aware of where my “fixed-mindset” is dominant I’m more conscious of my internal (and external!) dialogue. Little things like adding “yet” onto the end of negative fixed statements (I can’t make this TV work… yet) means that I’m becoming more mindful every time I make these permanent statements that are entirely untrue. I feel like I’m forcing myself to see the positive in everything, and I’m constantly surprised by the amount of positives that I find. The whole thing is hugely calming.
I want my students to reap these same benefits… it could link with wellbeing if kids had the tools to be able to identify where they’re being cruel to themselves and to adjust their vocabulary accordingly. This is one of those situations where it’s definitely much easier said than done. I’m trying to create activities to encourage this type of thought process and so far students seem really engaged when reflecting on their language choices and situations that bring out their “fixed-mindsets”. I still have no idea what this will look like when I try to implement it further, but the only thing I’m sure of is that this definitely can’t be a one-off intervention and will require a continued reflective process.
As you’ve probably worked out, I don’t think the growth mindset is a “fad”. I have no proof that it affects test scores or attainment grades but I do believe that a solid understanding of the principles can help our kids to develop a more positive outlook on life. If understanding the growth mindset can remove an ounce of the anxiety and stress that plagues many of my students, I certainly won’t be removing it from my teaching practice any time soon.
3 thoughts on “Is the growth mindset just a fad?”
Thanks for this great post.
I love this quote: “If no improvements are seen then that just means that you’re putting effort into the wrong things”
I completely agree and it makes me think of “working hard vs working smart”. So often, students come after timed assessments and say things like “but I revised so much and worked so hard”. Then we explore how they revise and realise that they were using pretty ineffective techniques. Like you say, praising just the effort here might be counterproductive. Far better to praise the effort, but then to add the caveat that the student needs to now look at how to turn that effort into positive outcomes.
I LOVE the growth mindset, and have the same opinion as you as to how it’s implemented. I agree that it has been greatly misunderstood. The growth mindset needs to be reclaimed and posts like this go a long way to help with that!
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I just wanted to share my learning about what the growth mindset is and some of my previous misunderstandings. The “praising effort” thing is definitely one of the most common misunderstandings from what I’ve seen. I’m definitely not an expert yet – but getting a more in depth understanding for sure. Implementation next!