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What I Learned From Carol Dweck's "Mindset"

I recently read a book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. I learned a lot from it, and would like to recommend it to all parents, teachers, tutors and students.

The author, Carol S. Dweck, is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. She has also taught at Columbia University and Harvard University. The book is based on her research at these universities. She was first attracted to studying mindsets, because she found some children love challenges while others try hard to avoid them.

Is someone smart because they are born with it, or they have been trained well? The truth is somewhere in between. People are born with certain innate abilities, and they can develop their abilities by lifelong learning and brain development.

People with a fixed mindset believe that a person’s intelligence or personality is fixed and innate. They see any challenge as a test whether they are smart. They avoid challenges, because the “tests” may prove they are not smart. It is also difficult for them to accept a “failure”, because it proves that they are dumb.

People with a growth mindset believe abilities can be developed. They embrace learning and like being challenged. They see setbacks as opportunities to learn and sources of growth. The more they learn, the smarter they become. The process of learning includes more than just effort. It also includes trying new strategies and asking for input from others. If they have a setback, they will try harder or look for alternative ways to do it.

Everyone has elements of both fixed mindset and growth mindset. Tutors, teachers and parents should nurture a growth mindset in our children and students.

How do we do that?

Every interaction with a student is an opportunity to nurture a growth mindset. Do not focus on the talent of the student or someone else. Always pay attention to the effort and process involved.

When a child excitedly tells us about her accomplishment, we can ask questions to reflect the effort and process which lead to her success. Then praise her effort, focus, persistence, and good strategies. For example:

“I like that you tried different strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.”

“You really studied for your test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, you outlined it, and you tested yourself on it. It really worked!”

“I like that you took on that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work – doing the research, designing the apparatus, buying the parts and building it. Boy, you are going to learn a lot of great things.”

What about a student who worked hard and didn’t do well? We let them know there are other ways that may work, and we are there to support them:

“I liked the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don’t understand.”

“Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.”

The book also points out some pitfalls to avoid in teaching and parenting. For example,

Praising children’s intelligence or talents does not give them permanent confidence. Instead, it makes them afraid of trying any challenging tasks, lest a “failure” proves that they are not smart or talented.

Do NOT say things such as “Wow, you did that so quickly!” or “Look, you didn’t make any mistakes!” We do not want to give them the message that speed and perfection is what we prize. They are the enemy of difficult learning.

Do not praise the effort when it is not there or when a child is not learning. Our praise is not meant to be a consolation prize, but is meant to help kids learn. If there is effort but not learning, we need to figure out why that effort is not effective and guide kids toward other strategies and resources that can help them resume learning.

When praising the process, always tie the process to a positive outcome. Or when you are happy with an outcome, find the process that leads to the outcome.

It is not enough to just say “You can accomplish anything!” It happens by helping your students gain the skills and find the resources to make progress toward their goals. Otherwise, it’s just an empty reassurance.

A good teacher has a growth mindset himself. When facing a challenge, for example, a student who is not motivated to learn, he is curious and will try different approaches to find the right trigger to get the student motivated.

These are some of the lessons I learned from the book. You will find more gems if you read the whole book.

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