Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential by Carol Dweck

Mindset by Carol Dweck is not my usual read but I have heard a lot about it over the years so when it was available for 99p on the Kindle the other day I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a popular psychology book where the author has spent a long time studying people’s thoughts and beliefs (or mindsets) on intelligence/talent. It’s actually a much easier read than I anticipated (I read the entire thing in a day) and very easy to understand.

The book discusses the fact that people have one of two mindsets:

Fixed – a belief that intelligence/talent is something you are born with and no amount of learning will change things. These people have a sense of needing to prove their intelligence constantly and fear criticism and not being the best. These people will often not try something new for fear of being shown up or failing at it.

Growth – a belief that intelligence/talent is developed through effort, hard work and challenge. These people are willing to challenge themselves and try new things. They want to make themselves better but understand that mistakes will help them improve. They often tend to be more motivated to carry on with something even if it is not going well.

It also discussed that all people are a mixture of the two and that you can have a fixed mindset in one area eg belief about your maths ability, and growth mindset in other areas.

The bit of the book that influenced me most was the discussion of several studies into offering praise to people for something they’ve done and the outcome this has on their future choices. In the studies they gave two groups of people the same test. After the test one group they praised how smart they were eg Well done, you got 80%, you must be clever! and the other half they praised their effort eg Well done, you got 80%, you must have worked really hard. After that they offered another harder test; those praised for effort in the previous one showed much more willingness to challenge themselves to have a go at the harder one. Many praised for intelligence chose not to take the harder test. They also showed that when asked to discuss their results with others those that were praised for intelligence were much more likely to lie about their results to make themselves sound even better. I find this really interesting as a teacher as clearly this has implications about the language used to praise children. Schools, particularly primary ones, are usually very focussed on praise, but perhaps we need to be careful about how we word the praise so that it encourages a growth mindset rather than a fixed one.

The book goes on to discuss fixed and growth mindsets across sports, business and education. As a teacher you could just skip out the chapters on sports and business although I think there are interesting messages within them to think about. The final chapters plant the seeds about how you might change your own thinking to more of a growth mindset, basically by encouraging you to think about the way you approach things.

It’s definitely a book I would recommend to get teachers thinking about intelligence and talent, how learning happens and what prevents learning, and especially the barriers people (including young children) put up to protect themselves.

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