Carol Dweck - Mindset


Some time ago, my mother asked me to read a book with her called Mindset by Carol Dweck.  She and the other teachers at the school were asked by the principal to read the book and to discuss certain chapters. As I read, I also summarized, simply as a mechanism to push me forward as I was at first somewhat reluctant to read it.  However, as always happens whenever I read, I learned a lot about both my students and myself.  I will be posting parts of my summaries of two chapters of the book with some discussions. I hope that anyone who reads this will buy or check out Dweck’s book! Here is a selection from my summary of chapter one.

The author begins chapter one with a story that takes place early in her research. Seeking to study how students cope with failure, she presented children with puzzles to solve. To her surprise, some students reacted positively when presented with challenges. Instead of being defeated by the failure to solve the puzzle, they thought of the puzzles as opportunities for learning. The author then asks the question, what did these students know that others did not? She asserts that a common belief is that qualities such as intelligence or the lack of same are set in stone. However, she asks, what is the result of thinking that such qualities are able to be developed over time?

The author’s research shows that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” ( Dweck 6). Belief in what she calls a “fixed mindset” creates the need to prove and reprove one’s value, while the “growth mindset” helps people to persevere through problems. This is because the “fixed mindset” is based on the idea that one’s qualities are unchangeable, but the “growth mindset” is based on the idea that such qualities can grow and change with the effort of the individual.

The author gives a sample vignette in which a character has several negative experiences. While anyone might feel bad about the experiences, the mindset a person adopts will predict how he or she will react to the stressors. It dictates the way he or she thinks about risk and effort.The person with a “fixed mindset” reacts by labeling him/herself negatively and by expressing feelings of futility. The person with a “growth mindset” reacts to the same experience with direct action to address problems.

The “fixed mindset” person devalues effort.  Furthermore, the author states, people with fixed mindsets typically have inaccurate estimates of their assets and limitations, while people with growth mindsets have more accurate estimates of their strengths and weaknesses and are able to translate adversity into success.

Reading this chapter, I noticed that my students have fixed mindsets. They believe that the grades they get on assignments they do is evidence of their essential abilities as opposed to a one time measure of the work they have done. They say things like “I’m not good at this. I just need a C.” They don’t hope for better, and often try to find the minimum they can do to get by as opposed to striving for excellence.   And while all of that is easy to say, the more difficult thing to admit is that I have the same problem sometimes.

The way this affects me is usually on the back end of an event. I usually start a project with the mindset that my hard work will bring me success, and that sustains me through problems. I really believe that by trying harder, I can overcome problems. However, if I fail to reach my goal, I am suddenly beset by the fixed mindset. I begin to think that my failure is definitive of my ability, even though I didn’t think that during the smaller trials earlier in the journey.  I have often reminded students that their grades on their papers are not a reflection of their self worth, but only an evaluation of that one paper. “If you took your car to be fixed, and the mechanic said you had a bad carburetor,” I would say, “you wouldn’t cry and think it meant you were a bad person. You would just get it fixed. That’s what you need to do to this paper. Just fix it.”  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to take your own advice.

Please click on the hyperlinks to visit Carol Dweck’s site  and to learn more about her research.

Dweck, Carol, S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.


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