Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well

Keynote speaker: Professor Carol Dweck

We have developed a generation of children who it seems can't get through the day without getting an award.

Two mindsets: Fixed Mindsets and Growth Mindsets. Growth mindsets don't think anyone can be an Einstein but do realise that Einstein had to work hard and learn in order to get to where he did. Talent is a starting point, not a limit.

Mindsets can be changed. Even adults develop new neurons. Also, in given areas, people can have different mindsets.

How do mindsets work?

Fixed Mindset Rule #1: Look clever at all times
Growth Mindset Rule #1: Learn, learn, learn

Over the course of a year, students who started in the same place had jumped apart. Growth mindsets performed significantly better. Problem is that when fixed mindsets did poorly, they though, "I guess I'm not good at this..." whereas growth mindset students studied harder.

When they measured brain activity, they found fixed mindset people entered a high state of attention while waiting to see if they got the right answer but this dropped after they found out. Growth mindset students paid attention both to find out if they were right but also when they were told the correct answer.

Fixed Mindset Rule #2: It should come naturally
Growth Mindset Rule #2: Working hard is the key

Fixed mindset thinks if they have to study that means they are no good but there is a growing body of evidence that one thing that distinguishes a genius from others is the amount of work they do.

The problem is that when students coast along with low effort they are told how good they are but when they encounter difficulty they retire. They prefer to be considered smart but lazy rather than work to achieve better.

Fixed Mindset Rule #3: Hide mistakes
Growth Mindset Rule #3: Confront deficiencies

Fixed mindsets hide deficiencies because they believe it shows lack of ability. Growth mindsets work harder rather than drop out or cheat. Fixed mindset students would rather blame others and try to remain feeling superior.

Where do mindsets come from?

Communicated to our students all day in the language we use. The self-esteem gurus thought that praising children as much as possible would make them confident individuals. However, it is the vulnerable children who are focused on getting praise are the fixed mindset (i.e. poor performers).

Experiment where students were given one of two types of praise. Either praising their intelligence or praising for process (e.g. effort). Very quickly, those praised for effort were overwhelmingly learners. Those praised for intelligence lost their confidence when confronted with difficult tasks - hey assumed they must not be intelligent after all. Those praised for process knew that the tasks were more difficult but remained confident because they thought they would be able to work harder to improve. Those praised for intelligence performed much more poorly in a second test - they got worse!

What to praise?

Praise effort, struggle and persistence despite setbacks. Praise strategies and choices. Praise for choosing difficult tasks. And praise for learning and improving.

If a child performs something apparently without effort, rather than saying, "You must be smart" we should say, "I'm sorry that was too easy for you. Let's find something more challenging that you can have fun with." However, it is very hard to give up praising intelligence.

How do you teach a growth mindset?

Students were taught that the brain could be stretched and developed. Students were galvanised to discover that the growth of their minds was in their own hands. The researchers have developed a computer learning package called Brainology where they are taught how the brain can be developed.

A growth mindset allows learners to embrace challenge. Teachers too need to learn a growth mindst - to learn and to grow. We must be given permission to make mistakes and to learn.

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