Have you ever told your students, “You are so smart”? Without meaning to, you are actually doing them a disservice, according to Carol Dweck, the psychologist who developed the idea of fixed versus growth mindset. People have ways of thinking that can either support or hinder their intellectual growth.
According to Dweck, a fixed mindset is one in which people believe their intelligence and talents are fixed. In other words, they view abilities as something they are born with. To continue with this line of logic, if abilities are fixed and there is not anything people can do to change them, then effort and perseverance are irrelevant. The growth mindset offers an opposing view. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and talents are fluid, thus hard work and persistence have a marked effect on their abilities.
At this point, you might be thinking that this is interesting research but how does it relate to what I say to my students? In Dweck’s article, The Perils and Promises of Praise, she discusses her research regarding the type of feedback children receive and its effects. When students were praised for their intelligence, they were more likely to view this as fixed. On the other hand, when teachers made a statement regarding the students’ efforts, they were more likely to attribute their success to their efforts. Thus, statements such as, “You are so smart” or “This is really easy for you” support a fixed mindset. While encouraging statements such as, “You really worked hard on finding the solution to that problem” or “You had the wrong answer, but you kept trying and found the solution” support a growth mindset.
When we, as educators, focus on students efforts instead of their “intelligence”, we are encouraging a growth mindset. While we are with our students, we have a responsibility to not only convey factual information, but also encourage a mindset that supports intellectual growth.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). The Perils and Promises of Praise. Educational Leadership, 65, (2), 34-39.