Cultivating a Growth Mindset

The following is a guest post from Drew Frank, the Director of Academic Operations and Lower School Principal of The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy. You can follow Drew on twitter @ugafrank. He shared a version of these remarks at Back To School Night.


I want to share with you some very important research that is helping shape our classroom, guidance, and school experience here at The Davis Academy.  Over the course of the past year, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of educational researchers and thinkers who are looking into the amazing work of psychologist Carol Dweck.  Her research has helped shape our teacher training during preplanning and will be incorporated throughout the year.

Carol did many research projects, but her seminal work was on the idea of the growth mindset.  Carol’s initial research was done by bringing in thousands of children for a testing session.  She would first give them an easy task which she knew they could solve.  Next she would give them a challenge which she knew they could not solve.  She observed two very different reactions.  The first set pushed away from the table, exclaimed, ‘this task is dumb’ which led to ‘I am not smart enough or good enough’. The second group of testers actually moved closer to the task and embraced the challenge.  It was this distinction and trying to figure out what makes someone shrink away or embrace a challenge that focused the rest of her research.

Years later after doing many follow up studies  she made the distinction between the fixed mindset, those who feel they have a fixed amount of intelligence, ability, and competencies, versus those who have a growth mindset or believe their intelligence, abilities, and competencies are ever growing.  The piece of her research most important  for us  as parents and for us as educators, was that the key factor was not in how adults interacted with children when the children experienced failure that impacted their mindset, but what we said after a success that was internalized by children.

In her latest research she selected 1000 students who tested in the 9th stanine on New York’s  end of year assessments. By selecting this group she knew she had a top group of achievers.  She split the group in to two set.  Group A she gave the easy task, and then after they got it correct  she said, ‘Wow,  You are great.  awesome job’. Group B, she gave the easy task then after they got it right, she said, ‘I love how you used a diagram to solve that’ or, ‘I noticed and appreciated that you listed the components and I think that really helped you to solve the problem’.  She then gave both groups the hard problem.  At the end of the session she thanked the students for participating, and she held up two envelopes and told the students they could only select one.  The first had the list of all participants and where they all ranked on the tasks.  The second had the solution to the second, more difficult task.  The first group that received the, ‘great job, you are amazing’ feedback selected the rankings over 80 percent of the time.  However, the group that received recognition for the strategies they employed selected the ranking less than 30% of the time.

So what does this mean as parents and educators?  While it is almost instinctual to praise the ‘A’ on a spelling test, the goal scored in a soccer game, or the beautiful created piece of art with a, ‘You are so smart, you are the best, great job’ it is far more impactful an beneficial if we can recognize the processes and strategies that were employed as opposed to the results that were attained.  We are going to be incorporating this research in our classrooms, professional development, and parent learning opportunities this year.

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