The Growth Mind-Set: How Intelligence Can Change and Grow
Science teachers know that metals are malleable: that is, they can change in shape. Artists who work with clay know how malleable it is: shapeable, stretchable, and changeable. Cognitive scientists know that intelligence, or the ability to learn, is malleable, too.
Now, decades of educational neuroscience research proves that when students become aware that their intelligence is malleable, their motivation to learn soars. But when they believe their intelligence or abilities are “fixed” by nature, their motivation may plummet at the first sign of a learning challenge.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, researcher, and author, calls these two very different outlooks on learning the growth mind-set and the fixed mind-set, respectively. According to Dweck, these mind-sets have a profound impact on students’ success—in the classroom and beyond.
If you have a fixed mind-set, you believe that we are each born with fixed intelligence and abilities and that our personal efforts have relatively little impact on those abilities. However, if you possess a growth mind-set, you believe that our intelligence and abilities can grow and improve over time through personal effort and perseverance.
In short, students benefit from knowing they can learn. Students with a growth mind-set have higher motivation to seek out challenges and learn from mistakes. They view a rigorous curriculum as an exciting and energizing challenge that can lead to success. They understand that, just as people get stronger and more agile by training and working out physically, working out the brain can increase strength, agility, and, most importantly, learning potential.
Stanford Magazine article on Dr. Dweck’s research by Marina Krakovsky. Descriptions in the chart are
drawn from Dr. Dweck’s ground-breaking book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”
Shifting to a Growth Mind-Set
Fortunately, mind-sets are changeable (like the brain!), and Learning Coaches and teachers can play a major role in shifting fixed mind-sets to growth mind-sets. We can demonstrate behaviors and model the growth mind-set. Mentors and role models can teach students study skills and strategies. This provides tools for solving problems and methods by which to face challenging content. In addition, adults can enhance the learning process with positive, specific feedback. Rather than providing a generic “good job!” as students finish, Learning Coaches and teachers can integrate prompts and leading questions throughout lessons. Activate prior knowledge, insert review questions mid-lesson, and ask students to periodically explain what they’ve learned. All these reinforce the learning process as well as the content material learned.
We can also encourage self-reflection, empowering students to analyze the way they learn. This kind of analysis helps learners recognize struggle as a positive part of ongoing growth rather than failure. Practice may not lead to perfection, but practice in the form of repetition can hone skills and enhance the potential for growth. Knowing that bailing out is not an option but that struggle is to be expected points students in the direction of increased effort on the way to meet their goals.
Want more information on the growth mind-set? Check out this TED Talk and then tell us how you’re developing a growth mind-set in your child. Share in the comments below.