Mindset – The New Psychology of Success, 2007.
Many of you have heard me reference a book by Dr. Carol Dweck called Mindset. When I first read this book, it revolutionized the way I viewed learning. I have had the privilege of coaching sports for years. When I was just beginning, I worked with a coach who had a long track record of success as a basketball coach. One day he coached me to never reward ability, but instead to focus on and reward effort only. I admit I did not really understand why, but began to implement this. Dweck’s work gave me the answer for why he was right. You see, if you reward ability, a player can never really give you more ability. With ability, they have what they have. If you reward effort, they can always match or even exceed the effort they last expended, and this in turn, can actually grow ability. It is a subtle, but significant twist on thinking.
This pathway has continued and my understanding continues to grow as I observe students and work with them to improve their learning. I think I am going to suggest a pathway that some of you may choose to walk along with me. Your immediate task? Obtain for yourself a copy of Mindset.
I am writing an introduction today and will follow up in the future with another piece on Mindset. My intention is to write throughout the semester as you read the book and together we will work to better understand the way your kids think about themselves as learners. I do not think this will be a waste of your time. In fact, some have told me this book made all the difference for them as parents. I suspect that at a minimum, you may find these notes helpful. So, who is Carol Dweck and why should we listen to her?
Carol Dweck (now of Stanford University) is a researcher who wanted to study how people managed failure. So, she set up a series of puzzles where she could watch children attempt difficult work, and fail. She knew how she responded to failure and assumed that others would respond the same way. You either cope with it or you do not. She admits that she really, really thought that intelligence was fixed. “You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t” (pg. 4). One would remain smart if they could “arrange successes and avoid failures” (pg. 4). She set out to prove intelligence was fixed and to discover how those were not as talented could properly manage their failure.
She was blown away by what she found in some children. “Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, ‘I love a challenge!’ Another, sweating away on the puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, ‘You know, I was hoping this would be informative!’” (pg. 3) What she was seeing was children who were finding joy…in failure. As they struggled, they were getting smarter.
The deeper Dweck dove into the subject, the more she found that she was wrong. Alfred Binet, created the IQ test, to identify students who were not performing well in schools so that special programs could be designed to rescue them from a system that was failing them. That surely is not how IQ tests have been used in my quarter century of education.
Dweck quotes a leader in the study of intelligence, Robert Sternberg, who calls intelligence “not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement” (pg. 5). If I could wave my magic wand to sprinkle magic dust in our school, that would be it. Purposeful engagement.