Brainology #3

“Brainology” by Carol S. Dweck

Read and listen to the next part of the text.

To understand the different worlds these mindsets create, we followed several hundred students across a difficult school transition — the transition to seventh grade. This is when the academic work often gets much harder, the grading gets stricter, and the school environment gets less personalized with students moving from class to class. As the students entered seventh grade, we measured their mindsets (along with a number of other things) and then we monitored their grades over the next two years.

The first thing we found was that students with different mindsets cared about different things in school. Those with a growth mindset were much more interested in learning than in just looking smart in school. This was not the case for students with a fixed mindset. In fact, in many of our studies with students from preschool age to college age, we find that students with a fixed mindset care so much about how smart they will appear that they often reject learning opportunities — even ones that are critical to their success (Cimpian, et al., 2007; Hong, et al., 1999; Nussbaum and Dweck, 2008; Mangels, et al., 2006).

Next, we found that students with the two mindsets had radically different beliefs about effort. Those with a growth mindset had a very straightforward (and correct) idea of effort — the idea that the harder you work, the more your ability will grow and that even geniuses have had to work hard for their accomplishments. In contrast, the students with the fixed mindset believed that if you worked hard it meant that you didn’t have ability, and that things would just come naturally to you if you did. This means that every time something is hard for them and requires effort, it’s both a threat and a bind. If they work hard at it that means that they aren’t good at it, but if they don’t work hard they won’t do well. Clearly, since just about every worthwhile pursuit involves effort over a long period of time, this is a potentially crippling belief, not only in school but also in life.

Students with different mindsets also had very different reactions to setbacks. Those with growth mindsets reported that, after a setback in school, they would simply study more or study differently the next time. But those with fixed mindsets were more likely to say that they would feel dumb, study less the next time, and seriously consider cheating. If you feel dumb — permanently dumb — in an academic area, there is no good way to bounce back and be successful in the future. In a growth mindset, however, you can make a plan of positive action that can remedy a deficiency. (Hong. et al., 1999; Nussbaum and Dweck, 2008; Heyman, et al., 1992)

Finally, when we looked at the math grades they went on to earn, we found that the students with a growth mindset had pulled ahead. Although both groups had started seventh grade with equivalent achievement test scores, a growth mindset quickly propelled students ahead of their fixed-mindset peers, and this gap only increased over the two years of the study.

In short, the belief that intelligence is fixed dampened students’ motivation to learn, made them afraid of effort, and made them want to quit after a setback. This is why so many bright students stop working when school becomes hard. Many bright students find grade school easy and coast to success early on. But later on, when they are challenged, they struggle. They don’t want to make mistakes and feel dumb — and, most of all, they don’t want to work hard and feel dumb. So they simply retire.

It is the belief that intelligence can be developed that opens students to a love of learning, a belief in the power of effort and constructive, determined reactions to setbacks.

Return to the class Moodle site to take Brainology Quiz #3 about this part of the text.

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