Students with ‘growth mindsets’ make better grades, study shows

Students with a “growth mindset,” who are more concerned with learning than with getting good grades and appearing “smart,” wind up actually doing better in school and learning more, a Stanford psychology professor told faculty and parents last week.

Carol Dweck, who wrote the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” spoke to faculty at 3:30 p.m. and parents at 7 p.m. at the Middle School.

“Some kids have a fixed mindset,” she said. “They believe their talents and abilities are fixed traits. You have a certain amount and that’s that. This is the mindset that turns children into non-learners because they are so worried about how much they have and whether they’ll look smart that learning takes a back seat.”

Those with growth mindsets, Dweck continued, believe “their basic abilities and talents can be developed through hard work, perseverance, good strategies, good instruction and help from others.”

Dweck said that though you can hold a different mindset in different areas, mindsets can be changed.

She said that in a fixed mindset, rule number one is to “look smart at all times and at all costs. But even more so, big rule number one is never look dumb.”

“The kids who care about learning and study from learning are going to be the kids who do better, rather than the kids who are just going for the grades,” Dweck said.

Dweck provided data correlating students categorized in “growth” and “fixed” mindsets to test scores, with those in the “growth” category not only doing better, but applying more effort and better dealing with setbacks.

“In a fixed mindset, effort is a bad thing,” she said. “They hate it. They believe that if you have ability, things should come naturally to you and if you have to work at something it means you’re not good at it. Those with a growth mindset think effort is a great thing, it activates your ability, allows you to use it to the fullest and it increases your ability over time.”

Dweck said that language is one of the ways teachers and parents got their values across to their students and that praise at times can have a negative effect.

“By telling them how smart they are, we are making them ashamed to be imperfect, ashamed to be learners,” she said.

She advised the parents and faculty to try setting up a new value system for kids relating the message that “easy is boring; easy is a waste of time. Hard? Now that’s interesting; that’s worthwhile.”

“What stood out for me in this presentation was just the irrefutable evidence that a change in thinking can have such a profound change in outcomes,” Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said.

As a result of Dweck’s presentation, the Human Development and Choices and Challenges teams will develop lessons about mindsets, Huybrechts said.

“The value of a growth mindset is going to be a discussion topic in faculty meetings and now that we’ve all heard the evidence from her and many of us have read the book, I’m sure we’ll be incorporating it into our own teaching,” Huybrechts said.

One such incorporation will be in the workload survey that will be sent to all students in November, as part of a survey sent every six years.

“We are asking [Dweck] for some of the research questions she has used with students to discern whether they were of a fixed mindset or of a growth mindset and we’re actually going to incorporate those,” Huybrechts said.

The survey, which will be 100 percent anonymous, will attempt to collect data to see if there are correlations between fixed mindsets and other attributes, Huybrechts said.

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