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Spotlight on Carol Dweck

In our latest blog, Liz will clarify where it all began and why with research spanning over 30 years the development of a growth mindset has become the foundation for many businesses worldwide, educational settings and has become renowned within the world of sport. Whilst 'mindsets' have been there since the dawn of time, at the end of the day we all have 'one' and always will have, what is it about Carol Dweck and her research that has created such a platform for so many (including myself) to engage with?

Who is Carol Dweck?

If someone had asked me 5 years ago

'Who is Carol Dweck?' I would most likely have responded with a blank look and answered honestly, 'I haven't got a clue!' Yet, fast-forward from 2017 to 2020 and here I am, not only have I been massively influenced by her research and books on a personal level and as a teacher since 2017, myself and Gemma have been so inspired to also have developed our business Grow Your Mindset on the principles of her theory and research outcomes.

As a Stanford University Psychologist

Carol Dweck has done and continues to do extensive research on how an individuals mindset (way of thinking that determines your behaviour, outlook and mental attitude) catapults some learners onto a journey where learning is valued, embraced and good progress made whilst places others on a journey were they begin to fear learning opportunities, as the experience is seen to magnify their inadequecies. The path that people invite themselves on in any given situation or circumstance will not only determine the success they experience but also creates a basis for their ongoing mental health and well-being.

What is Carol Dweck’s theory?

For many the theory and principles Dweck has highlighted has created clarity and structure in terms of becoming more mindset aware for yourself. By coining the terms fixed and growth mindsets she has provided a starting point, that point on a journey of choice. A choice we all have, but I personally hadn't previously considered because I, like many others believed my unconcious bias, I went along with my habitual behaviours, my core belief system and instinctive reactions moulded within me through my life experiences and influences whilst growing up and into adulthood. Believing you are born with a set amount of intelligence, being handed a deck of cards in the poker game of life and believing you're stuck with those cards creates a self defeating identity, one were you become trapped by the limited beliefs you form of yourself, one that encourages you to stick to what you know and feel safe with and which ultimately inhibits personal growth. In her research Carol Dweck looks at the origins of these mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes. Thus throughout her work she repeatedly experienced students of equal ability reacting differently towards challenge, effort, feedback and mistakes and was fascinated by those students who, although they had been dealt a bad hand in the poker game of life continued to draw more cards by putting in effort, trying different strategies, embracing feedback, learning from mistakes until they had a great hand of cards. Changing your core belief system to one where you know and believe your abilities can be developed gives you the confidence to go into challenging situations knowing the experience will provide an opportunity to develop specific skills and abilities further.

What are the 2 types of mindset?

As previously mentioned there are 2 types of mindset (Fixed and Growth) however, here I feel it's important to clarify one of the biggest misconceptions that has been misunderstood and resulted in Dwecks research being oversimplified which has resulted in mindsets becoming stigmatised. Catergorising people (adults/children) as one or the other / one versus the other and grouping the traits or characteristics in such a way has created an unhealthy approach towards creating an ethos of growth. Especially for those individuals categorised or stigmatised as 'fixed'.

Remembering that all individuals are a mix of both fixed AND growth mindsets is paramount and thus it is the circumstance or situation we find ourself in which will either trigger our fixed to come home to roost or push us to become more growth orientated in our attitude and actions. The choice comes in knowing we are on a mindset continnuum, therefore there is fluidity between our movement from fixed to growth and growth to fixed. Making a mindset move when you become aware of your fixed mindset encourages you to become more intrinsically motivated, determined and more resilient to deal with problems and the setbacks that arise, therefore reducing the levels of anxiety and stress felt. 

What did Carol Dweck discover?

Through her research over the years Carol Dweck has highlighted a variety of ways the link to mindsets and their role in motivation and self-regulation. The areas of interest to me (especially as a teacher) were her raising awareness of the neural activity of students when they ran from difficulty. She demonstrated that when confronted with errors the students who perceived the error negatively (with their fixed mindset) showed hardly any neural activity in the brain as they backed off and didn't engage with it, whereas those students who had an understanding that their ability could be developed engaged deeply and their brain showed a far greater neural activity as they questioned, processed the errors and learnt from them.

Also, in reinforcing the importance of process praise Dweck clarified that by praising wisely and not praising intelligence or talent but praising the processes the children engaged in, their effort, their focus, their strategies and their perseverance created an intrinsic motivation to succeed and encouraged them to become more resilient. This was further emphasised when she teamed up with Game Scientists in Washington in developing a new online maths game which rewarded strategies, effort and process over getting the right answers at that moment. This resulted in longer engagement over longer periods of time and more persistance when the children hit harder problems to solve.

I absolutely believe that changing the focus of a child's learning to the processes of what learning looks, sounds and feels like rather than solely the importance of the end result, so grade or test score ultimately changes a child's (and adult's for that matter) perception of learning.

What is the power of yet?

The Power of Yet has transformed the learning experiences for many children and adults in terms of providing confidence and a path into the future. In a world where we expect immediate responses and outcomes due to the fast paced lifestyles we have created (me and Gemma refer to it at the 'amazon effect!'), the journey of learning has too become embroiled in the same expectation, often resulting in learners feeling their intelligence is up for judgement if they don't get something straight away and as Dweck has often stated, instead of luxuriating in the Power of Yet many children are gripped in the tyranny of now. And for many instead of using the experience of 'not knowing' as a springboard into finding out, by trying new strategies, seeking feedback, learning from their mistakes etc. Dweck found that many would rather consider cheating or seeking out someone who had performed worse to make them feel better about themselves. Albeit a simple CVC word by adding this to our internal and external dialogue when faced with challenged or struggle we are able to remove the cap to our ability from 'I'm not good at this' to 'I'm not good at this....yet!' But where is the POWER? It's definitely not in the word 'yet' saying it alone will not change a thing.

This is a strategy we have seen so many schools adopt, but often results in frustrated children who bleat they can't do something 'yet' on a Monday and are still saying it 3 or 4 days later because they perceive the word to be a magic wand, so if they carry on saying it they'll suddenly be able to do whatever it is they're finding a challenge. When Dweck refers to providing children with a path to the future, it's the path where the power is.... What are they going to do next? What strategies will stay the same or change? What do they already know to help them? How will the mistakes they make help them learn? How can they think creatively, flexible or critically to achieve their desired outcome? Children need those processes explained, scaffolded and role modelled, so they develop a toolkit of skills that cultivate independent, confident learners.....THAT's where the power is!

Over the years Carol Dweck has faced many a cynic and has confronted challenging questions in relation to her research outcomes, especially when linked to academia. And whilst test scores are at the forefront of many an educational setting's plans, for me, that score, grade or result tells you where an individual is at that one moment in time, it doesn't define where they could be in the future, however your mindset does. 1990 to 2004 my fixed mindset held me back in relation to my ability to drive, to cut a long story short, I'd passed my test and experienced a crash and there my journey of fear and excuses began as I avoided driving at all costs. 2005 to 2017 I drove short distances, but never on a motorway. 2017 my mindset journey began.... 2019 I drove a 600 mile round trip to Devon with no fear, no sweaty palms and a positive attitude. So to all you cynics out there, for me and for many, mindset IS everything and if Carol Dweck can provide clarity, direction and a starting point for others like she has for me, then hats off to her I say!

If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.

If you would like to know more about Grow Your Mindset click here.

Much Love

Liz x

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Great to refresh my thoughts on Carol Dweck's seminal work! Like the personal story at the end. I should not have been in teaching for 30+ years because I did not pass my Maths O level. I retook the exam 6 times and each time my result got worse because my panic got worse! Once I discovered growth mindset, especially connected to my coaching work with young people, I decided to put it to the test and I passed my GCSE maths in June 2017 at the ripe old age of 64! Having a growth mindset and having a plan works!

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