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2014-02-01 Steve Gardiner Book Review: Mindset by Carol Dweck

We have long known that a student's perception of the teacher, classmates, the classroom, and herself are critical in how well that student learns. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006, Ballantine Books, New York), Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck breaks that perception down into two main categories and shows clearly how each affects a student's learning.

The two categories she defines are growth mindset and fixed mindset. Briefly, Dweck describes those students with a fixed mindset as believing their mental and personality traits are permanent. Effort won't change them and in order to maintain this view, these students must prove themselves over and over, often leading to giving up because putting forth effort that may lead to a mistake means the basic nature of those students is lacking.


Students with a growth mindset, however, believe they can change and develop and that “a person's true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it's impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training” (p. 7). To these students, effort is everything and mistakes are merely opportunities to learn something new.


To check a person's mindset, Dweck offers these four statements (p. 12) . Read each statement and agree or disagree:

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can't change very much.

  2. You can learn new things, but you can't really change how intelligent you are.

  3. No mater how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.

  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.


Statements 1 and 2 reflect a fixed mindset and statements 3 and 4 reflect a growth mindset.


One interesting aspect of the mindset concept is what Dweck calls stretching. Students with a fixed mindset do not want to stretch themselves. They believe that their intelligence and talent is already established so stretching would place that valuation in jeopardy. Attempting to stretch and not reaching would indicate a failure of character, intellect, and skill. None of those are acceptable if a student views it through a fixed mindset, so the only time a fixed mindset thrives is when the task is well within the student's grasp. If the goal is to be flawless, then the student must find ways to remain flawless.


On the other hand, a student with a growth mindset not only accepts stretching but seeks it out for the possibilities it offers. The challenge represents a chance to learn and grow, to explore and expand. Making a mistake, for this student, is not a flaw but merely a part of the overall process of being a human being. The growth mindset student is willing to take a risk in exchange for the exciting prospect of gaining knowledge or experience.


The best news from this book—mindset can be changed, and Dweck offers many ideas about doing so.


This book should be on every teacher's bookshelf. The insights Dweck provides regarding student thinking, the use of praise and reward, and how mindset affects student achievement and learning are not only amazing, but immediately useful.


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