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The highest aim of education is to develop driven, efficacious learners. That's what will best enable them to thrive.
Why ignite lifelong growth?
Today's world is a learner's paradise and a non-learner's pit. The accessibility of knowledge, rapid pace of change, and vastness, present unlimited opportunities for exploration, growth, and contribution. Driven learners:
What is more important for education to do than to ignite lifelong growth?
A growth mindset is the understanding that personal qualities and abilities can change. It leads people to take on challenges, persevere in the face of setbacks, and become more effective learners. As more and more people learn about the growth mindset, which was first discovered by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, we sometimes observe some confusions about it. Recently some critiques have emerged. Of course we invite critical analysis and feedback, as it helps all of us learn and improve, but some of the recent commentary seems to point to misunderstandings of growth mindset research and practice. This article summarizes some common confusions and offers some reflections.
A growth mindset about mistakes
We can deepen our own and our students' understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability to manage and learn from mistakes is not fixed. We can improve it.
Here are two quotes about mistakes that I like and use, but that can also lead to confusion if we don't further clarify what we mean:
"A life spent making mistakes is not only most honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing" - George Bernard Shaw
"It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has." - Maria Montessori
These constructive quotes communicate that mistakes are desirable, which is a positive message and part of what we want students to learn. An appreciation of mistakes helps us overcome our fear of making them, enabling us to take risks. But we also want students to understand what kinds of mistakes are most useful and how to most learn from them.
If students are struggling, we want them to remain motivated, try harder, and stick with it. But what about the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"? If a student has tried to learn something, didn't succeed, tried the same thing again and again, and never felt progress, is he likely to think that trying yet again will yield results? And is that motivating or demotivating?
George Washington had a lot of grit. He led the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War when the British army had much greater resources, and more and better-trained soldiers. It took grit to lead the Continental Army for eight years and eventually win the war. But George Washington also sometimes quit, which seems at odds with having grit. He went into battles aiming to win, but when things weren't working in his favor, he sometimes decided to retreat. He would give up the near-term goal of winning the battle because he realized that pursuing that goal would yield large losses in the American army, thereby compromising the more important, long-term goal of gaining independence. He'd go back, regroup, think about a different strategy or tactic to try next, set a new goal, and go for it. If that didn't work, he'd try something else, always committed to the big aim. This is grit. It's the "perseverance and passion for long-term goals" (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007, p.1087).