Child's face

How can you motivate that reluctant student? And what about yourself? Perhaps the answer lies in your mindset.

Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006) and serves as the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Science and is the recipient of numerous awards for her contributions to education. We talked to her about mindsets and how they can help — or hinder — motivation.

EH: Could you explain the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset?

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Carol: When people are in a fixed mindset, they believe that their basic abilities — their intelligence and their talents — are fixed traits. They have a certain amount, and that’s that. This mindset makes people afraid to take risks because they don’t want to look like they’re deficient in their abilities or their talents.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can be developed through learning, perseverance, and good mentoring. In this mindset, they don’t necessarily believe that everyone can do anything or anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that everyone can develop further. This is the mindset that promotes challenge seeking and resilience, because it’s oriented towards learning, not measuring the self.

EH: Are these mindsets innate, or are they learned?

Carol: We’ve shown in our research that mindsets are things that people can learn. I don’t rule out the possibility that some kids have a temperament that orients them one way or the other, but we’ve shown that the environment is a huge factor.

We’ve also shown that the type of praise adults use with kids can shape their mindsets. For example, praising intelligence makes students think it’s a fixed trait. It puts them in a fixed mindset, making them vulnerable, whereas praising the process they engage in encourages more of a growth mindset.

We’ve found that you can teach kids a growth mindset directly by teaching them about the brain and how it changes with learning. When we teach kids the growth mindset, their motivation changes and their grades increase. We teach them that when you stretch yourself to learn something new, the neurons in the brain form new connections. Over time, you can enhance your intellectual abilities.

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Comments on Mindsets: How to Motivate Students (and Yourself)

  1. jmcgraw0010 says:

    Getting an ‘E’ for Effort—Now that’s an understatement. It seems that effort reaps much in return when it’s truly expended. That Learning takes place must then be demonstrated through the strength of the individual student’s preferred mode of [multiple] intelligence. A song or dance, verbal or visual, a test or portfolio, et cet era.
    ~~~I have myself put in time and energy, exertion to the point of exhaustion, pursuing my education, never sure if indeed I was learning…It was when I rested on my laurels of outward indicators (letter grades) of my intelligence/learning that I began to miss it and slide away from those achievement indicators ( a slipping GPA). Effort does matter. Like the saying goes, “One gets out of something the more one puts into it…”