Carol Dweck has become the closest thing to an education celebrity because of her work on growth mindset. Her research shows that children who have a growth mindset welcome challenges as opportunities to improve, believing that their abilities can change with focused effort. Kids with fixed mindsets, on the other hand, believe they have a finite amount of talent that can’t be altered and shy away from challenges that might reveal their inabilities.

Dweck believes educators flocked to her work because many were tired of drilling kids for high-stakes tests and recognized that student motivation and love for learning was being lost in the process. But Dweck is worried that as her research became more popular, many people oversimplified its message.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Dweck explained to reporter Christine Gross-Loh all the ways she sees growth mindset being misappropriated. She says often teachers and parents aren’t willing to take the longer, more difficult path of helping students identify strategies and connect success to those strategies. Instead, her complicated psychological research has gotten boiled down to, “praise the effort, not the outcome.” Dweck also explained what she means by a “false” growth mindset:

False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.

The interview is full of tips for parents and educators, including the differences between young children and older ones.

Don’t Let Praise Become a Consolation Prize

Helping children confront challenges requires a more nuanced understanding of the “growth mindset,” says the psychologist Carol Dweck.

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  • Ethyl

    I’m glad to see this. In the old days we used to call it, “learning the hard way”. I’ve closed-captioned videos of people who were discouraged multiple times from pursuing their interests, who believed in themselves when no one else would. People like Ben Kilham. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11BQA3UINqQ ) The intensity of his study of bear behavior is beyond anything one can “book learn”, and he is not recognized as a “scientist”, but nevertheless, is highly regarded and world renowned. The “purists” of academia can’t hold a candle to his wisdom and insight. What if he had been discouraged because he did not have the “gifts” to become a naturalist? I think the “fixed” mindset is what makes science so introspective and impotent. A book is not how you learn about life.

    While closed-captioning the Dyslexic Advantage you-tube videos, I learned an expression that gave one successful entrepreneur comfort. “Hard work beats genius when genius doesn’t work hard.” No one fits the paradigm that Carol Dweck speaks to more than Dyslexics, who often fail at school, but often go on to be highly successful in life because they don’t give up, and are not discouraged by failure, but see it as a part of the learning process. And they do work twice as hard to get where they are going.

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  • Adam Buchbinder

    Thanks for sharing. I would also challenge you to review research on what comprises the traits of inspiring leaders and how these relate to the growth mindset thesis. Leaders at Bain & Co devised a net promoter score to scale and streamline employees’ leadership skills you can check their podcast out http://www.netpromotersystemblog.com/2016/12/08/podcast-the-33-qualities-of-inspiring-leaders/. As part of the quantitative analysis, those employees who scored perfect or near perfect on a single trait had 4:1 odds of being considered a leader by their peers than those who performed in the middle or top decile with few weaknesses. My takeaway: allow students to find their strengths and encourage them to pursue them rather than drill them on skills they struggle with or dislike.

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  • Larryalobo

    Part of the question is can a person with a fixed mindset in this area really do things or teach things to help others develop a growth mindset? Just taking the fast food quick tags of a concept leads us down the wrong path. Is like saying just be compassionate or tolerant and things will change for the better (without some sort of standards or getting people to stretch beyond their present abilities in a good framework). And don’t forget even if we take the right approach with encouraging a growth mindset, some can be undone by our fixed mindset tendencies and limitations dealing with that person(s) and the effect of others with fixed mindsets. I’ll bet many efforts in doing things to develop a growth mindset don’t even know how the brain works to make it possible and digest it to sayings, phrases and quick strategies without building the fundamentals. The person you deal with has to learn to believe that they can develop a growth mindset and they can learn

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