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This piece is re-posted from the first Mindset Works Newsletter, 2011
Can we motivate students at the end of the year?
As most of you know, our research shows that students with a growth mindset (who believe their intelligence can be developed) show greater motivation to learn and greater achievement over the school year, compared to students with a fixed mindset (who believe their intelligence is fixed). This is because students with a growth mindset believe in effort and focus on learning and improvement. The year feels long, the students have been working for many months, and they sense the school year winding down—they can begin to feel the freedom and joys of summer. How can we keep them engaged in schoolwork? Research on mindsets gives some answers.
We have also found over and over that praise for intelligence puts students into a fixed mindset and harms their motivation, but praise for process (effort, strategies, taking on challenges, persistence) puts them in a growth mindset and enhances their motivation and resilience.
So, how can we take advantage of these findings?
1. Focus on progress. The end of the year is a great time to emphasize all the progress students have made over the school year.
My former student David Yeager and I have been very concerned about violence in school. The problem in high school gets worse. People are shifting social groups; social labels are flying around, and kids are really stressed. If you add to this the common belief that people can’t change—that everyone is fixed in their roles and that you are always going to be picked on or always going to be a loser— then the conflagrations begin.
In other words, we realized that students’ beliefs play an important role in this. In our study, we saw that many students believe that people are just fixed. They believe that if you are a bully you’ll always be a bully and if you are a victim you’ll always be a victim. When these students are picked on, they feel like losers, ashamed of themselves, and they desire violent retaliation.
David Yeager created a training program that taught students a growth mindset, the idea that people’s behavior is due to thoughts and feelings that can be changed. Then we brought students into a situation where they were excluded and they had the opportunity to retaliate against the excluder. We showed that kids who have the growth mindset intervention were 40% less likely to retaliate and 2-3 times as likely to engage in pro-social behavior than students who did not receive the training. Furthermore, their teachers reported much improved conduct in the classroom, students’ attendance at school was better, and their suspensions were way down.
What is education for? Is it for pouring facts and formulas into students’ heads, or is it for creating learners?
At its best, was the U.S. educational system known for producing memorizers and test-takers or was it known for producing innovators?
I think we can agree that we want to create learners and innovators—people who seek challenges, stretch to learn new things, and bounce back from (or are even energized by) setbacks. If this is what we want, we are going about it in exactly the wrong way. High stakes testing may in fact be creating the very opposite in our students.
My research shows that an environment that emphasizes evaluation and testing creates a fixed mindset. That is, it sends the message that intellectual abilities are fixed and that the purpose of school is to measure them. Students come to see school as the place to look smart and, above all, not look dumb—not a place to create and learn. A fixed mindset also breeds low effort (because students believe that high effort advertises low ability), and poor reactions to difficulty (because they believe that difficulty also reveals low ability). These are not the habits of people who achieve or innovate in adulthood.
The American Psychological Association is honoring Carol Dweck with the 2011 APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award:
The American Psychological Association is honoring Carol Dweck with the 2011 APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. "For her insightful research and incisive theorizing concerning perceptions and interpretations of success and failure across many domains of human endeavor, but especially in the realm of academic achievement." The citation goes on to praise her innovative and elegant experimental paradigms, her wide theoretical net, and her clever and effective strategies for promoting students' motivation.
The APA Citation:
"For her insightful research and incisive theorizing concerning perceptions and interpretations of success and failure across many domains of human endeavor, but especially in the realm of academic achievement. Drawing on a series of innovative and elegant experimental paradigms, Carol S. Dweck has cast a theoretical net progressing from initial studies of learned helplessness to studies of the larger self-theories of ability, the activity goals individuals select, and the differential consequences associated with helpless versus mastery-oriented responses to difficult problems. Her widely cited work has produced, in addition, clever and effective strategies for promoting more functional incremental theories, learning goals, and persistence in students facing apparent failure".