Carol S. Dweck, author of the book Mindset, has spent decades in research about the factors, which impact achievement and success. She has found that intelligence and talent are not the factors that bring success; it is the belief students have in their own abilities to change.
Dr. Dweck has identified two mindsets: fixed and growth. Depending on which mindset students believe they have, their motivation, productivity, relationships and accomplishments are impacted.
With a fixed mindset, students believe that the talents and basic abilities they possess are simply fixed traits. They will argue that a person is successful because they are talented – success should not require effort. According to Dweck – fixed mind set students spend their time documenting the success of others rather than developing their own. They see challenges as impossible to tackle because they do not possess the level of talent or the knowledge to be successful in their attempts.
In contrast, students with a growth mindset understand that with effort and dedicated hard work, they will accomplish a challenging task. The intelligence they are born with and the talents they possess can be developed with effort on their part. Students see challenges as possibilities; knowing they will learn and develop mastery of their talents through their use and practice.
An interesting perspective in Dweck’s research is that it as teachers working to motivate our reluctant learners and to develop a sense of productivity in the classroom, some of our traditional strategies of praise may not be fostering what we hope to accomplish!
According to the New York Magazine, in an August 2007 article by Po Bonson, he discusses how Dweck’s research places the blame for lack of motivation and productivity of even our brightest students, to the praise that has been heaped on them since they were infants. Being told they are smart, intelligent, talented, and amazing, has not developed into a sense of fearlessness and self-confidence to tackle even the routine challenges they may encounter. Instead, praise fosters just the opposite. Not wanting to disappoint and prove they are not as smart, talented, or perfect as their parents and teachers declared, they refuse to try. They fear of showing they are not as talented and may possibly fail on their first attempts; thus disappointing the adults and embarrassing themselves.
Artists, scholars, and athletes develop mastery of their talents and skills through practice. Students with fixed mindsets underestimate their own abilities and the importance of effort. They often believe they have all the intelligence and talent they will ever have. They do not recognize that mastery of a skill requires working at it and dealing with the many small setbacks before a highly polished skill is automatic and consistent. According to the article, Dweck believes that “giving a student the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.”
Teachers need to be aware of how a single line of praise for intelligence can be a motivation stopper, compared to being praised for effort that is a motivator. In Dweck’s studies, when students were praised for their efforts in completing a moderately challenging task, 90% of the children who were praised for their efforts chose to continue to be challenged with further tasks. This is compared to the majority of students who were praised for their intelligence, who choose an easier task, in the avoidance of failure.
Robert Marzano, et al. in the book, What Works in Schools (2009) suggests that reinforcing effort and providing recognition for incremental gains in mastery is highly effective in raising student achievement. His meta-analysis supports Dweck’s studies suggesting praising grades plays into the game of: “Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” Because, with fixed mindsets, students choose to look smart and avoid the risk of being found out. They are afraid it will be discovered that they don’t have the natural talent or that they are not as smart as the adults and peers in their lives think.
I would like to invite you to visit STEMcoach.com and check out our STEMtalks from February and March to learn more about mindsets and strategies for embracing the failures that come in developing an open minds set in the students in your classroom. There are several videos and resources that have a few ideas you might want to try to promote the growth mindset for yourself and your students.
Have you had similar experiences? Share with us your ideas and experiences bringing new strategies into the science classroom and in preparing a student-centered learning environment as comments to the blog this month! I hope Talley’s Take becomes a place where you and others can share your thinking about being a STEM teacher. A place where you can comment and ask questions about what others find to be highly effective strategies for teaching in STEM content fields. I look forward to your comments!
Terry Talley, Ed.D.
STEMcoach in Action!