Thanks to Laurie O’Donnel for reminding me in his recent blogpost of what a significant text Carol Dweck’s Mindset is, especially in the context of the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, and in particular the aim to develop confident individuals. To many people, and perhaps particularly to Scots, “confident individuals” has connotations of arrogance or cockiness, characteristics which we have always derided, and rightly so. However, as Dweck demonstrates in Mindset -subtitled The New Psychology of Success – having confidence as an individual is much more about having what she calls a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset”.
Students with a fixed mindset often give up easily because they assume they have been dealt a losing hand, usually reinforced by people telling them they are dumb or stupid. Even for very able students, a fixed mindset can lead to failure: in the fixed mindset effort is not something to be proud of, it is something which casts doubt on your abilities. Teachers with a fixed mindset bemoan the fact that they have been given “the bottom set again” and believe that no matter what they do it will make little or no difference whatsoever, so have often given up on some students before they even meet them.
With a growth mindset on the other hand, young people learn that effort is in itself rewarding, and that while some people are apparently able to do some things with little effort, others take longer and may have to work harder to get there. It isn’t difficult to think of examples – in sport, music or any number of activities – of people who have shown early talent only for it to remain frustratingly unfulfilled, while others who develop later go on to more sustained levels of success. In the growth mindset challenge is welcomed, because it is the effort which matters, not the ability. Ability is something which can be learned – you don’t have to be born that way.