Carol Dweck’s research into static and dynamic understandings of skill development have been referenced and discussed often.
Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, outlined the way people can understood themselves as having a fixed or growth mindsets. They might believe, as those with fixed mindsets do, that skill is innate, and that humans are fundamentally good or bad at something. Or, like those with a growth mindset, they might believe that at any moment everyone possesses particular skill set, but they have the potential to change and develop any skill.
Perhaps the most significant thing Dweck has to teach us is that mindset is not a matter of decision. Fixed or growing perceptions of our own ability is programmed into us based on our environment and experience.
Those with growth mindsets grew up being rewarded for their effectors. They were told, “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and often had experience buildings skills in multiple arenas. Those programmed with a fixed mindset were, in many cases, equally as successful as those with growth mindsets, but were encouraged with comments such as, “You are so smart!” or “You are a natural.”
If people with growing and fixed mindsets are equally capable, you might wonder why it matters that we have one mindset or the other. What matters is resiliency.
Those with fixed mindsets tend to give up after approaching a difficult problem they can’t immediately puzzle out a solution, while those with growth mindsets — who believe that ability is a matter of hard work — will stick with the problem for hours longer. In studies it was even shown that after not succeeding with an extremely difficult math equation, those with fixed mindsets weren’t able to again approach simple math problems they would have handled easily before.
Thanks to Dweck’s research we now know we can set our students up for resilient success in many arenas (not just the ones in which they perceive themselves as being naturally gifted) by using language to praise demonstrated hard work, focus, and determination rather than qualities or characteristics.
But that shift doesn’t come without deliberate practice.
To make this change in your teaching, consider using the some of the following habit-shifting strategies.
- Take a video of yourself teaching, and analyze the language you use. Do your words encourage a growth or fixed mindset in your student’s?
- Practicing framing your feedback in terms of growth. Literally talk out loud to the mirror, while you are commuting, or in other environments (with family and friends) to prepare.
- Set an intention at the beginning of the lesson.
- Use reminders – sticky note on stands, timer on your phone, trigger/red flag words.
- Ask for help- see if you can team up with the parents in your studio to make the shift together.
This change, like saying what you see and using gestures, is one you can make immediately. But it is in acknowledging the power that your words have, committing to use them as responsibly as possible, and deliberately practicing that kind of communication, that you have the potential to shape the mindsets of your students as you intend.