Some time ago, I heard Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, speak at a conference about her research into the power of self-belief. Dweck explored what people believe about their own abilities, or what she refers to as “Mindset” – which is also the name of her book on this topic. Her research identified that we each have a certain belief structure about our level of intelligence. Those who believe that intelligence is determined at birth; that the level of ability each person receives is fixed at that time and unable to be altered, have what Dweck refers to as a “Fixed Mindset”.
Others believe that cognitive abilities are available at birth, but also believe we have the capacity to grow and develop the level of intellectual ability and skills that we have. When individuals believe that their brains are changeable or malleable, Dweck refers to this belief structure as a “Growth Mindset”.
Mindset makes a difference to how individuals behave, especially in relation to academic tasks. Those with a fixed mindset want to convince others that they are intelligent. In order to achieve this goal, they avoid tasks they perceive as difficult because any failure in these tasks will undermine their own and others’ perceptions of high ability. They avoid risks associated with challenge; may be terrified of making mistakes and tend to stay within a safe comfort zone. When confronted with challenges that they cannot avoid, people with a fixed mindset believe that they either have, or do not have, the capacity to undertake the task. Difficulty (or perceived failure) is explained in terms such as “Oh well, I just can’t do …” or “I don’t have ability in that area.”
Students with a growth mindset believe that they are able to develop their abilities and skills. They view difficult academic work and other challenges in a positive manner because these provide opportunities for growth. They actively look for challenges in order to develop their abilities, much as someone may go to the gym to exercise and develop muscle strength. Mistakes and failures are viewed as valuable feedback and a way to identify the abilities and skills that have yet to be developed. Those who hold a growth mindset are energised by challenges and do not shy away from possible defeat. They see mistakes and failure as just a stepping stone to achieving their ultimate goal.
Students’ exam results and end of year reports will soon be delivered. Some will be pleased with results, while others may be disappointed. Students with a growth mindset will be able to reflect upon the year and their current academic results with a positive outlook for the following year. Holding a growth mindset stimulates an optimistic approach towards improvement. Believing in oneself and one’s ability is important, but a critical factor in achieving academic success is holding a belief that one can develop further. When reports are reviewed with a growth mindset, plans can be developed to meet current and future challenges.
© Michele Juratowitch