Tag Archives: Carol Dweck

Serendipity with Carol Dweck

I have not read the New York Times online in many months, and only receive the print edition on Sundays. However, it is mid-August, I am up quite early this morning, Joe Biden has just announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, it is still dark outside, and I decided it was time to return to checking in with the world what with the election a little less than three months from now.

(Not that I have been absent from the news; my husband keeps me up-to-date and I receive daily ‘breaking news’ emails from the Times. I just haven’t felt there was anything to be learned by bombarding myself with the negativity of the news. Fixed mindset, growth mindset or sanity mindset?)

This by way of explaining how it is I serendipitously came upon an article about Carol Dweck, someone I first wrote about in December 2007. At the time, Dweck’s theory of Fixed and Growth Mindsets made a big impression on me. Someone with a fixed mindset tends to believe that they are born with whatever intelligence they have, the brain is what it is, and that’s all there is, whereas someone with a growth mindset tends to believe that their brain is malleable, meaning it can change. Which mindset would you think is more conducive to learning?

As an individual, a parent and a teacher I found much to appreciate in the theory for myself, my children and my students. At the same time, I also felt thwarted by an educational system that may have wanted teachers to inculcate their students to the theory, but was unwilling to alter the checks and balances and methods of assessment that still sent home messages about individual learning not totally in concert with the idea that failing can promote learning.

If you are willing to take risks you will sometimes fail at what you try, but the very act of failing will give you the learning experience that sets the ground upon which the next learning risk will take place. This cycle of trying and making mistakes is what learning is all about. If you have a growth mindset then the mistake-making is not the end of the world but rather a jumping off point to decipher what went wrong and how it can be changed for improvement. That process is actually what learning is all about. Someone with a fixed mindset will likely give up and, as a result, not make any progress.

For years, until I retired from teaching this past June, I would share the following simple statements that actually have much meaning behind them:

Try it and see!

You made a mistake. How fascinating! (This came from a talk I watched by Ben Zander.)

Flop with fanfare, revise with relish! (I picked this up from an education listserv.)

So here I am this morning, browsing today’s articles in the Times, when an image captioned by “Feel Like You’re Going Out of Your Mind? Consider Your Mind-Set” comes into view. Over the years criticism has been lobbed at Dweck regarding this theory of mindsets, and perhaps what was most satisfying is that she took in the criticism and then used it as a springboard to fine tune the theory and further her research.

In any case, I appreciated stumbling upon this brief article. It was both a reminder of ideas I used to think about, as well satisfying to serendipitously revisit a person who had made educational news and was still out there doing her thing.

All Roads Lead To…Carol Dweck?

Back in the day, when all roads of the Roman Empire radiated from Rome, it could easily be said that all roads led to Rome. These days, it’s not so much about roads as it is about web searches. It never ceases to amuse me where a search will lead and what it will unearth.

I am an avid reader of Garr Reynolds’ blog, Presentation Zen, all about ‘issues related to professional presentation design’. In his December 21st post, Update from Oregon, Garr references Guy Kawasaki, who made his name as a Macintosh evangelist back when he was an Apple employee.

Following the link to Guy’s site I immediately began scrolling the December posts, eventually landing on How to Not Choke, which interested me because a quick scan showed it related to the brain. At the end of that post there is an addendum mentioning Carol Dweck, along with links to Guy’s post about her, a YouTube video interview with her, and a link to The Secret of Raising Smart Kids, a Scientific American article written by her (and which did not come up when I initially did a search for ‘Carol Dweck’).

I first wrote about Carol Dweck at the end of December in Plasticity in Progress. All roads may have once led to Rome, but, in a roundabout way, all my blog reading habits (well, I only read one regularly ;-)) led to Carol Dweck.

p.s. It’s now June 27, 2008 and I just found another useful article about Dweck. In the May 21, 2007 online issue of Newsweek, Wray Herbert writes about Carol Dweck in Are We Who We Think We Are?

Plasticity in Progress

[UPDATE May 24, 2010: Carol Dweck is mentioned in a number of my posts, and here is a May 9, 2010 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education – Carol Dweck’s Attitude, It’s not about how smart you are]

Psychologists Lisa Blackwell (Columbia University) and Carol Dweck (Stamford University) have done research showing children can improve on their studies once they learn that intelligence is something that they can develop and control. Dweck calls this a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset”. By simply teaching students that the brain can learn and change, in other words, that the brain can grow, the students realized their brains are malleable. This self-knowledge gave them the internal motivation to enhance their own learning.

Blackwell’s and Dweck’s study supports the idea of neuroplasticity, and is a prime example of the power of positive thinking in influencing brain growth. Their study followed about one hundred seventh graders who had difficulty with, and were low performing in math. The students were randomly placed into two groups. One group was given extra study skills sessions, and the other group was taught about the brain and that intelligence was not fixed so thus it could be changed.

At the end of the term both groups of students’ math grades were reviewed. Those students in the Brain 101 group had substantially improved math scores. In interviews with those students, it was apparent they had taken to heart the concept that their brains could change. This positive knowledge, both of knowing they had control over expanding their minds and that they would not have to remain negatively pigeonholed, had made it possible for them to learn. I am intrigued by this, as it sounds like so simple a fix, and suspect that, while having this kind of knowledge about one’s own brain would be empowering, it may require some additional interventions to help math students who struggle with the subject.

In the video below Carol Dweck explains the two different mindsets, and why your mindset matters.

dweck.pngDweck has written the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which I have not yet read. In addition to her book, there are numerous interviews and articles available about Dweck’s and Blackwell’s studies, and these I have listened to or read.

• ITConversations: Tech Nation – Thirty minute interview by Dr. Moira Gunn of Dr, Carol Dweck (3/14/06) – an indepth, well-rounded discussion
• New York Magazine – How Not to Talk to Your Kids (2/12/07) – lengthy article with helpful suggestions
• NPR – Students’ View of Intelligence Can Help Grades (2/15/07) – brief overview of the research
• Stanford Magazine – The Effort Effect (March/April/07 issue) – includes a link to a graphic comparison of the mindsets
• edutopia – Tell Students to Feed Their Brains (3/16/07) – useful suggestions plus links to additional articles, including Don’t Weigh the Elephant — Feed the Elephant


For my Follow-Up to this post, see my January 7, 2008 entry All Roads Lead To…Carol Dweck?