Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Two Mindsets About Learning

Fundamental to our work is the belief that students who understand their strengths and weaknesses can learn to use strategies to strengthen their strengths and remediate their weaknesses. An article entitled Even Geniuses Work Hard  by Carol S. Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, published in the journal Educational Leadership, builds on this belief by looking at how students' approach to learning impacts their academic growth. Dr. Dweck describes two types of students -- those with a 'fixed mindset' who believe their intelligence is an inborn trait and those who have a 'growth mindset' who believe that intelligence is something that can be developed over time.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Dweck and her colleagues have found that these two types of mindsets have an impact on how these students behave in school. Those who have a fixed mindset tend to avoid hard work and situations where they might "look stupid." Since they believe that not doing well in a particular task is a reflection of their fixed intelligence, they do not handle setbacks well. In contrast, students who have a growth mindset tend to value hard work, to appreciate the need to try different methods to achieve success, and face setbacks by looking at ways to overcome them -- a trait often referred to as resilience.

Dr. Carol Dweck
Dr. Dweck's team believes that teachers can do much to foster a growth mindset by how they teach and evaluate students. By looking at situations where individuals who have overcome challenges, teachers can impart a sense of the importance of perseverance. New information presented as a challenge, where students who have not mastered the information get a "not yet" grade, rather than failing, can build appreciation for the learning process rather than a measure of fixed competence. It is an approach to learning that involves understanding one's own mind and learning processes and results in more thoughtful students who value learning for the sake of knowledge and skills gained, not as a test of their intellect. For those who find this entire subject of interest, Dr. Dweck has published a book setting out this approach in depth.

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