Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”
This is a widely known theory of mind and psychology within the education circuit in Southern California and probably other areas of the world. It made sense for me to finally read the entire book rather than limit myself to the knowledge provided by excerpts of Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A key piece of advice that my mentors have given me over the years: review the sources too and follow up on reading what they have to say on the subject matter. Researchers build up subject matter knowledge this same exact way, and it is a common strategy in many fields.
Howard Gardner, in his book Extraordinary Minds, concluded that exceptional individuals have ” a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.”
In contrast, students with the growth mindset continued to show the same high level of interest even when they found the work very challenging.
Mindset has a lot of great quotes that I can cherry-pick to use as a teaching strategy. So, what is it? What is the theory itself? Simply put, learning happens when students engage material with an open mindset. The book explains the criteria for an open mindset or growth mindset. Key factors include: consistent effort over a long period of time, renewal of effort despite challenges and difficulties, willingness to explore options not attempted in previous efforts, willingness to take advise from others and carry out that advice. Not surprisingly, Carol Dweck also mentions here and there how learners with a growth mindset also speak differently; this creates a nice bridge between this book and Valorie Burton’s Successful Women Speak Differently.
Yet, it’s been clear to me for a long time that different students handle depression in dramatically different ways. Some let everything slide. Others, though feeling wretched, hang on. They drag themselves to class, keep up with their work, and take care of themselves – so that when they feel better, their lives are intact.
What I found particularly interesting about this book was Carol Dweck’s inclusion of the subject of depression and it’s connection to success. The statistics on childhood depression vary depending on the source, but one fact is certain: they are way too high for comfort. Having experience my own first depressive episodes as early as middle school, I can certainly see the point Dweck tries to make regarding the invisible connection between depression and academic success. The growth mindset group keeps it together while the other group does not. As an instructor, I have been tempted many times to “go easy” on my students because they struggle with x, y, or z. A part of me has always felt that I do them a disservice when I lower my standards. What are educators really trying to say when they hold students to a bare minimum standard?Hey, listen kid, I know this is really the best you can do, so I won’t expect better from you. To me, this always felt like the teacher is trying to take the easy way out rather than giving the students a much needed mental break.
Many educators think that lowering their standards will give students success experiences, boost their self-esteem, and raise their achievement. It comes from the same philosophy as the overpraising of students’ intelligence. Well, it doesn’t work. Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise.
Dweck PhD, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Penguin Random House, 2016. Accessed on CloudLibrary 2022.
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