Carol Dweck’s accessible rhetoric is probably the most notable facet concerning her foray into the realm of widely-published literature; in the second chapter of her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck plainly elucidates her thoughts on the divide between what she calls an undesirable “fixed-learning mindset”–one that holds the notion of innate intelligence paramount–versus a “growth mindset,” or the belief in intelligence being much too hard to quantify to attempt to wrangle down and identify oneself with. This perambulatable style of writing becomes all the more enjoyable to read after Dweck touches upon her own fixed-mindset tendencies; writing with a quarterly journal-esque voice really wouldn’t have driven the humbling point home nearly as well. I was finding myself more and more embarrassed as I read along in this introductory chapter on the subject, as I realized how many attributes of a fixed-mindset person I used to possess (or still do, if we’re being honest). Given that her thesis, in sum, is that a fixed mindset is supremely harmful to the process of learning, I thought I’d share some of her assertions so that you can identify with future students (or, just as important, yourself) these traits and try to steer clear of stimulating them; one can certainly grow into a primarily growth-based mindset, after all (hence the name of the got-dang mindset).
A fixed-mindset person is focused mostly on expounding upon their self-concept; proving that you’re smart becomes the focus in the mind rather than challenging oneself (opening oneself up to potential failure) and actually mastering something new. This can lead to validation being the only motivator in learning, and in topics that typically don’t offer quick gratification (such as college-level chemistry, calculus, etc.), fixed-mindset students can often lose interest in a subject fast. Fixed-mindset students would much rather solve variations of an easy puzzle repeatedly rather than risk failing at a harder one, as this suggests lacking some sort of intellectual endowment. According to Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author, they fawn over “natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort” (qtd. in Dweck 41). If something doesn’t click right away, it’s likely indicative of a natural deficiency.
Growth-mindset students, however, don’t necessarily draw a connection with ability and results. It’s not even an issue of “effort is just as important as smarts,” or that effort and talent form a binary, diametric relationship; it’s more about simply decoupling self-concept from success. “Everyone can change and grow through experience… a person’s potential is unknown and unknowable (7).” Growth-mindset students generally speak with a more earthbound tone concerning a subject and its requirements, rather than speaking hyperbolically about its perils and difficulties.
Applying these flags towards students while in the midst of tutoring seems like a pretty efficacious practice, however inchoate in breadth it may be. If a student appears to not want to budge when encountering something new and difficult, or appears to glow after effortlessly solving a problem in relation to their peers, it is likely
that they possess a fixed belief in their abilities and do not wish to harm their self-concept. Speaking in an objective manner about a concept in a given tutoring session helps to decouple the two (not utilizing value statements at all–even something like, “this is a hard concept to grasp”), allowing the student to actually learn rather than intertwining their ideas about their intelligence into the matter.
–Jack Johnson, MCTC Economics and Math Tutor
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.Tags: learning center, mindset, tutoring