“I have always been deeply motivated by outstanding achievement
and saddened by wasted potential” [1] ~Carol Dweck

June 5,2017 | Authored by J. Wester and S. Khandwala

One’s mindset is the mental attitude that determines how one will interpret and respond to life. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University and world-renowned research expert in this field, has identified two opposing mindset categories: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. [2] With these, she proposes that it is not intelligence, but mindset, that determines success. And she is not alone in this belief. Entrepreneur magazine [3], Harvard Business Review [4], and Forbes [5] have all published materials in support of this discovery.

Therefore, we decided to create this article in an effort to empower you to understand what all the excitement is about without reading the miles of printed text on the subject.

What is a Fixed Mindset?

The theory of a fixed mindset posits that intelligence is a fixed trait. The fixed mindset expects learning to be easy for those who are ‘smart’ and difficult for those who are not [smart]. Believing that mental qualities are predetermined in one’s DNA, that intelligence cannot be changed, or that success requires natural talent, the fixed mindset person lives in fear of exposing his or her deficiencies; afraid of looking ‘dumb’ or feeling embarrassed by their shortcomings or mistakes. Students that find themselves in this predicament may learn to hate learning and school as it exposes deficiencies in their knowledge, memory, or understandings.

As this excerpt from a New Yorker article entitled ‘The Talent Myth’ explains:

“Dweck gave a class of preadolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort and another group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance on subsequent tests soon began to suffer. Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. She discovered something remarkable: forty per cent of those students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward. They weren’t naturally deceptive people, and they weren’t any less intelligent or self-confident than anyone else. They simply did what people do when they are immersed in an environment that celebrates them solely for their innate “talent.” They begin to define themselves by that description, and when times get tough and that self-image is threatened they have difficulty with the consequences.”[6]

TED speaker, Derek Sivers, expands on the concept:

“This sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly deep. The fixed mindset is the most common and the most harmful, so it’s worth understanding and considering how it’s affecting you….In a fixed mindset, it’s all about the outcome. If you fail, you think all effort was wasted.”[7]

And Rick Ackerly writes in his article, Empathy, Education and a True Growth Mindset:

“The human brain was designed to generalize. Turning infinitely complex reality into a useful simplicity has had great survival value for our species. But this great strength is also an equally great disability. These generalizations are always distortions of reality, and in education, especially, they are often worse than useless.”[8]

What is a Growth Mindset?

The attitude of a person with a growth mindset is that intelligence is a quality that can grow and develop. People with a growth mindset succeed by facing setbacks and by believing that they can succeed. A person with a growth mindset focuses more on learning than on judgements, testing, or grading their proficiencies. With the growth mindset, students become smart rather than believe their smartness is inborn and out of their control. This mindset teaches that the harder you work at something, the more skilled you will become at that work and understanding its complexities.
Additional details between the two mindsets can be further explored in this TEDEd video.[9]

How Can Parents and Teachers Help?

A person who has a growth mindset is not afraid of failure or of choosing difficult options because they know that they can progress to their goals across time and effort. Parents and teachers can help cultivate the growth mindset in children by for instance learning to say, “I haven’t done this . . . yet.” rather than, “I can’t do this.”
Or when praising a student, refraining from simply attributing the success to a learner’s natural intelligence. Instead, one should try to highlight and praise characteristics such as their hard work, perseverance, curiosity, creativity, and effort. It is even helpful to praise a student’s willingness to work through ambiguity or revise work as this strengthens the mindset of growth and building on experiences to achieve a goal.

Ask questions to learners such as:

• Which parts of this is most successful for you?
• What misconceptions did you discover in your learning process?
• What might you change if you were to explore this subject again?

We’ve focused on the shoulds rather than the should nots, but this[10] New York Magazine article, ‘How Not to Talk to Your Kids’, dives into the don’ts for those that would like a more foreboding approach of various common habits that could be reinforcing a fixed mindset rather than broadening a learner’s horizons with growth mindset.

Be mindful in any case, not to simply praise effort as a means to an end. As KJ Dell’Antonia writes:

“We risk teaching our children to expect that any effort, no matter how puny or how enabled, should be enough to earn them the results they desire.
That’s far from the real message of the research surrounding the growth mindset…The emphasis should be on learning as an active process, not a goal. ‘We’re not just saying ‘effort’ anymore,’ she says. ‘We also talk about using good strategies and getting help from others.’ Part of a growth mind-set is being willing to learn how best to learn. ‘Parents may be familiar with the growth mindset, but they may be using it toward the goal of the next test grade or school application. That’s not what it is. It’s about learning and improving and loving the process. Those other things come about as a byproduct.’”[11]

Overcoming a challenge in a competent manner is one of the best feelings a human can encounter and one of the most important qualities one must posses for lifelong success.[12] Additionally, moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset liberates students and teachers, as this 2012 Chilean study by two Stanford University students found.[13]

We are proud to say that the Montessori method to which we, the educators, founders, and staff of ArborCreek Montessori Academy [14], subscribe is a firm supporter and educator in the growth mindset, teaching a love of learning.

In order to be authentic to Maria Montessori’s original approach to education which held firm that humans have the potential to grow and develop, Montessori programs must cultivate and embody among their staff growth-oriented mindsets.[15] This results in students that are encouraged to continue in-depth exploration of subjects they love to learn. They are also supported in their efforts to learn and expand in disciplines outside of their strong suits; but never disillusioned into a cycle of praise for effort’s sake or an arrogance mindset about one’s own talents. Having individual lesson plans in each area of focus for each student in a class allows Montessori educators to accomplish such a feat consistently and without undue stress on students. Having pillars of good citizenship among one’s community maintains the goal of developing people with confidence and humility.

Learn more about a Montessorian’s lesson planning here[16] and the Montessori Teacher here[17]

If you would like to practice similar methodology in leading the development of your children, consider joining a Montessori community near you. If you homeschool, there are many Montessori method adaptment guides for home-use you may find helpful. The American Montessori Society [18] and the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association [19] are two organizations to reference for quality information along your journey. Additionally, as a fundraiser and developmental aide we have published a series of activity books for home and travel use, the Artistic Refinement Therapy Book Series [20] , that hold Montessorian pillars as their founding design parameters and are appropriate for children as young as 2 years old.

We greatly encourage you to further study the nuances and benefits of instilling a beneficial growth-mindset in your life as well as your child’s.

Have some insights of your own to share? Contact us!

[1] https://mindsetonline.com/abouttheauthor/index.html
[2] Dweck, C., https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/
[3] Monsalve, S., https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231759
[4] https://hbr.org/2012/01/the-right-mindset-for-success
[5] Bradberry, T., https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/01/19/why-attitude-is-more-important-than-iq/&refURL=https://www.google.com/&referrer=https://www.google.com/
[6] Gladwell, M., http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/07/22/the-talent-myth
[7] Sivers, D., https://sivers.org/mindset
[8] Ackerly, R., http://geniusinchildren.org/2016/01/19/empathy-education-and-a-true-growth-mindset/
[9] http://ed.ted.com/featured/qrZmOV7R
[10] Bronson, P., http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
[11] Dell’Antonia, K., https://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/nice-try-is-not-enough/?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=2
[12] http://childdevelopmentpartners.com/the-mindset-that-will-promote-your-childs-lifelong-success/
[13] Claro, S. and Paunesku, D., https://www.sree.org/conferences/2014f/program/downloads/abstracts/1304.pdf
[14] http://www.acmontessoriacademy.org
[15] Callaghan, V., https://issuu.com/vanessacallaghan/docs/vrcallaghan_authentic_montessori_sh
[16] https://getbrainybox.com/writing-a-montessori-lesson-plan/
[17] https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori/Montessori-Teachers
[18] http://amshq.org
[19] http://www.montessori-namta.org
[20] http://www.artisticrefinementtherapy.com/