Thursday, January 3, 2013

Of all the books I read during the Christmas holidays, none has crawled inside my head like Carol Dweck's book Mindset. My sister told me about the book awhile back, and I finally got around to reading it. Now I keep wanting to recommend it to everyone.  I wish I'd read it when my own children were younger (although I think they have growth mindset traits.  As a teacher facing a new roster of students this coming Monday, I especially want to integrate what I learned into my teaching.

Dweck is a Ph.D. who has researched her topic deeply, but she used a readable style to write this book, not intending it for intellectuals and academics, but for ordinary people. The overall principle is simple:  People who follow a fixed mindset believe that abilities are limited.  They have a certain amount of intelligence; their abilities have limits. Once they reach that limit, it's necessary to protect one's image and self esteem at all costs.  Those with a growth mindset, however, believe that effort produces learning and growth.  And--in a true growth mindset--Dweck shows how one can change his or her own mindset and can influence the mindset of others.

One experiment she documents illustrates the principles.  Elementary ages children in two groups were given puzzles to complete. One group was told, upon completion, how smart they were to have finished the puzzle successfully. The other group was praised for their hard work in finishing the puzzle. As the puzzles grew increasingly difficult, the children in the first group didn't want to continue, assuming they'd reached the limit of their capabilities. The other children wanted more and harder puzzles, asking to bring them home and asking for information about obtaining similar puzzles of their own.

In the book, she applies this principle to sports, school, business, and personal relationships with many excellent examples. For example, she contrasts fixed mindset John McEnroe to growth mindset Tiger Woods and Bobby (Throw the Chair) Knight (guess which mindset) to John Wooden.  In the end of the book, she also presents scenarios to think through how to internalize the growth mindset and to encourage it in one's children--or students.

I am thinking of my own students--college freshmen usually, ranging from 17 to 67.  Many--especially some of the younger ones--are intent on taking the easy path.  Others--other older students coming to college for the first time, some after completing a GED, lack faith in their own intelligence.  My challenge this year will be to encourage growth.  I'm reminded of a quotation I used to keep on my classroom wall: There are always two choices, two paths to take; one is easy, and it's only reward is that it's easy.


Khara House said...

It's such a challenge, sometimes, assuring or reassuring students (at any age!) of their intelligence. One of the big comments I get from mine every semester is "I'm a terrible writer." They say it at the beginning. They say it as we're working on peer reviews of the first drafts of the first essay. They say it when they get that first "A" on a paper. They say it as they realize they're going to get an "A" in the class! It worries me that so many of them enter collegiate careers in the mindset that they aren't actually good enough to be there. It's one of my goals every semester (or, it was, when I was teaching) to continuously say, "This is your class. These are your words. You have the power, and you have POWER!"

Frank 'n' Sandy said...

Just one of the things that I admire about you, Cuz, is the fact that you read such a variety of kinds of books. One of my goals for 2013 is to follow in your footsteps. I'm already branching out. Thanks for the encouragement, even though you didn't know you gave it to me! Happy New Year!