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Dec 2, 201108:20 AMEducation Matters

Changing Our Mindsets

Dec 2, 2011 - 08:20 AM
Changing Our Mindsets

Carol S. Dweck, PH.D. and her book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success

What’s the first question most of us ask our kids after they take a test, complete a project, or hand in a report?

We ask about the grade, don’t we? We pass judgment on our children’s abilities without really considering whether that grade reflects the learning that may have resulted from the process – from the risks that may have been taken and the mistakes that may have been made.

We focus on our children’s talents and abilities and intellect as fixed traits. We document our kids’ talents and think these abilities will automatically lead to success.

That’s a fixed mind set.

A growth mind set is one that recognizes that abilities and intellect can be developed through hard work and dedication. It’s thinking that values the process of learning and doesn’t focus on the grade at the top of the page.   

And that’s what we should strive to develop in ourselves and our children, according to Stanford University psychology professor Carol S. Dweck, a renowned researcher in the field of motivation.

Dweck explores these ideas in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which was the subject of Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr’s first book club on Tuesday night.

Eighty-five people came to the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville to discuss the book with Starr, Dweck (who participated by Skype from California), and a panel of consisting of Monique Felder, MCPS director of accelerated and enriched instruction, and a parent and a teacher from Rocky Hill Middle School in Clarksburg. 

The event was also offered online on the MCPS website and broadcast on the school system’s cable TV station. This was the first of three book club events planned for the school year.

Dweck says that if we want our children to develop a growth mindset, we should be thinking about the messages that we are sending. “Either I’m thinking of you having fixed traits that should be judged or I’m thinking of your development,” she said.

Praising a student’s intellect – as in saying “You’re so smart” – can backfire and create a fixed mindset, making a student afraid of failure and of taking risks. But if we focus on praising students’ effort and the strategies that they employ, “more kids will become good learners,” Dweck says.

So how does that translate to the classroom? Dweck says teachers need to let students know that they believe everyone can and will learn. Mistakes should not be frowned upon, but welcome as part of learning.

“A mistake-free paper isn’t always the best paper,” Dweck said. “The fastest isn’t always the best.”

A recent Wall Street Journal story on innovation echoed the same theme for business leaders, pointing out that a “growing number of companies are explicitly rewarding failure,” giving prizes to those who are willing to take risks.

While Dweck did not suggest that, she said students should know that standardized tests are not “a measure of how smart they are or will be.” It’s just a snapshot of a child’s skills on testing day. “Improvement should be valued, not just coloring in a bubble,” Dweck said.

Since last year, teachers at Rocky Hill have been working on encouraging a growth mindset among students. They’ve been learning how to give praise that reflects students’ progress, and not their abilities.  And MCPS has been working with six elementary schools on developing a growth mind set in students, according to Felder.

“We believe it has implications for all students,” she said.

Of course, adopting a growth mindset will take effort on the part of teachers, students and parents. We’ve been conditioned to place so much value on the end result – the grade – possibly because we really don’t have other ways to judge how our children are doing. We can’t always review tests with our kids because schools don’t allow unit assessments provided by MCPS to be brought home.

That means that we’re left with just a grade or, in the case of middle and high school students, we’re checking Edline to find out the score and nothing more.

When I explained the idea of mindsets to my sixth-grade daughter, she got the concept right away.

“I do think I have a fixed mindset because I freak out about grades,” she said. “But I think I also have a growth mindset because I make mistakes and I don’t like to think about them, but I do.”

Guess I know what my homework assignment is.

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Dec 7, 2011 04:57 am
 Posted by  OlneyMom

EXCELLENT reminder for parents and thank you for prompting us to talk to our kids about it too.

Dec 13, 2011 08:59 pm
 Posted by  msa

Uh oh. A lot of us do expect our kids to get mostly As and don't like to hear "excuses." And all too often our kids are bought into the notion that the grade is more important than the learning. On the other hand, our education system seems to focus more on teaching kids to think and less on memorization than it did 30 years ago. Hopefully our best teachers are stimulating curiousity and parents are encouraging an environment of lifelong learning.

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