Ruyton Girls’ School was fortunate to have Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University present her work on self-theory to both staff and also parents recently. Dweck is seen as a world leader in our developing knowledge in regards to intelligence and the ability to change one’s intelligence based upon an individual’s theory of self.
Theories of self can either be adaptive or maladaptive: Dweck describes them in terms of a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, respectively. She has also researched the impact of praise on learners and how the type of praise that we give students can determine their future learning. Dweck’s work encourages a focus on attention on the process of learning, on effort and engagement to create an orientation towards learning. A key focus this year in the Junior School has been exploring the self theory, the concept of ‘grit’ or passion and motivation towards achieving a goal.
The difference between a fixed and a growth mindset can be described as follows. People with a fixed mindset view their abilities, qualities and intelligence as fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that it is talent which determines success and it has nothing to do with effort. A growth mindset is the reverse, people believe that their abilities, qualities and talents can be developed through effort and perseverance, it can be built upon and improved. A growth mindset is focused on the process, and finding motivation and engagement in the process of learning. This is an intrinsic motivator for future learning. Students with a growth mindset expect learning to be challenging and enjoy the challenges it presents.
According to Dweck’s research, approximately 40% of people are more inclined towards a growth mindset, 40% are more inclined towards a fixed mindset and 20% of people are undecided. Dweck’s research provides a welcome challenge to educators committed to personalised learning. Her work is empowering as it highlights the potential to cultivate adaptive self theories and to support students in overcoming maladaptive self theories.
Self-theory aligns with current research about ‘grit’. This represents a significant shift in how intelligence is viewed and, more importantly, learning in schools. It acknowledges that effort has a significant impact on learning and that encouraging effort and nurturing grit in students will result in improved learning.