Book Review: Mindset

Carol Dweck’s Mindset is worth your time.  Even more so if you are (or are planning to be) a manager, friend, partner, teacher, coach, or parent.  Dweck‘s thesis is very straightforward: much of what determines your success, or lack of success, is rooted in your mindset.  More specifically: whether you have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.”

Dweck’s overall claim (spoiler alert) is growth mindset – good, fixed mindset – bad.  This makes a certain amount of logical sense from the outset.  (Even more so if you’ve already read pieces like Outliers that focus on the amount of hard work needed for achieving true excellence.)  If you have a worldview in which you can improve and personality faults are malleable, you are better able to change your state and make positive change in your life.  When you believe that all your ability, intellect, and talent was fixed at birth, then you take on behaviors that reinforce those ideas and stunt your growth.

Dweck does not limit herself to education.  She also examines the benefits of a growth mindset in coaching, parenting, interpersonal relationships and business.  Each time the growth mindset is the clear winner through example after example.  I appreciate that Dweck chose to take an anecdotal, qualitative, approach to her work.  The mindset issue can be easily countered with examples of fixed mindset individuals who have achieved success, so a statistics-focused, quantitative, approach would soon look like Swiss cheese.  Dweck regularly reinforces that mindset is highly personal, and that changing fixed to growth mindset, while influenceable, is ultimately dependent on the individual’s desire to change.

For myself as a teacher, the most immediately useful section of the book is (no surprise) the chapter on teachers, parents, and coaches.  Dweck cites numerous qualitative examples of how the growth mindset helps those with power (teachers, parents, coaches) create success in their respective charges.  I do a lot of this already with my AVID class: my entire approach to the class is to help my students adopt a growth mindset with regards to their ability, intellect, and potential for positive change.  It was affirming to see that my theories are backed by research.  I do not, however, spend as much time explicitly discussing a growth mindset with my history classes.  I intend to change that, particularly with regard to the skill-based segments of my class: reading, writing, argumentation, and the like.

Making the growth mindset more explicit is a relatively minor change from the way I’ve been teaching so far.  The growth mindset is already present in the classroom.  We just need to name it and make the process more intentional.  The larger hurdle is disseminating the information to my peers.

Dweck’s provides many examples of the fixed mindset teacher that gives up when students do not present the desired level of ability, or the teacher who blames deficiencies on other teachers or schools. I’ve heard “they should have learned that in middle school,” or “they teach writing in English class,” enough times that I can’t count them.  I regularly hear “I’m just not good at math,” or “I love history, but I can’t write essays,” and it is a constant struggle to help students see that regardless of their current level of ability, they have the space for growth and improvement.  The rub is that helping my peers see that students benefit from a growth mindset is not enough.  In order for it to work I need to help my peers develop their own growth mindset so that they are willing to change how they teach.  Changing adults is harder than changing youth.

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