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Mindset – Motivation and Personality

Posted on: April 27th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

During our Level II Tutor Training, we discussed several articles on a variety of topics that are related to the way people learn and perform academically, and how we as tutors can help students get past the challenges that they face in their efforts to be successful academically. One of the topics we discussed that interested me the most was “Mindset,” which has to do with an individual’s beliefs about what they are capable of, and how their motivation affects learning. I chose the article “A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality” by Carol S. Dweck from the University of Illinois, and Ellen L. Leggett from Harvard University.

This article discusses patterns of adaptive and maladaptive behavior along with the research the authors did that demonstrates the psychology behind the patterns, and how it relates to the goals and motivation of an individual. The studies I chose to focus on were based upon research with children and how their goals, personalities and belief differences seem to lead to different responses and behavior toward challenges. They then expanded the model to cover a variety of applications.

In these studies, grade-school age children of equal ability were given problems to solve, beginning with eight that they would be able to successfully solve, followed by four problems that were more difficult than children their age should be expected to solve. Several observations and measures were taken along the way to be able to identify when any differences in behavior or attitudes occurred.

The researchers described two main types of approaches that they observed in children of equal ability, which they called the mastery-oriented patterns, and the helpless patterns.

The mastery-oriented children sought out the challenging tasks, and kept at them even when experiencing failure and struggles. They were optimistic that they could succeed, and stayed positive throughout the challenges along with being able to either maintain their problem solving performance ability or even improve it.

The helpless children generally tried to avoid the challenges and their performance declined when faced with the difficulties. Even when they had enjoyed the activities originally, once they started experiencing failure, they tended toward accrediting their failures to lack of intelligence or other abilities, and didn’t believe they could overcome them. When their motivation for the tasks waned, they began to look negatively at the problems, and “instead of concentrating their resources on attaining success they attempted to bolster their image in other ways” (Dweck and Leggett 258).

It is quite interesting to see what this study revealed. Children of equal ability demonstrate very different responses to challenges, and even some of those who are highly skilled will display helpless behaviors and attitude. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that the beliefs and goals people have, rather than their abilities, lead to their various approaches to the challenges they are faced with. They conclude that “conceiving of one’s intelligence as a fixed entity was associated with adopting the performance goal of documenting that entity, whereas conceiving of intelligence as a malleable quality was associated with the learning goal of developing that quality” (256).

Even though this research was performed with children, observations in settings with adults demonstrates the same patterns. College students are constantly facing stressful situations and challenges as they try to attain their education, and their mindset about learning, what they are capable of, and how they face those challenges make a notable difference in their performance and in their ultimate motivation to continue forward. A tutor can be a positive example and an encouragement to students who are struggling with motivation and who have a fixed mindset about their abilities. By helping them see even the small successes and by encouraging them along the way, helpless patterns that may be getting in their way can be replaced by master-oriented ones, and there motivation to move forward can improve.

–Colleen, MCTC Math and Science Tutor


Works Cited

Dweck, Carol, and Ellen Leggett. “A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality.” Psychological Review 95.2 (1988): 256-73. Stanford University. Stanford University. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

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