Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation. In her book, “Mindset,” she addresses why people succeed or don’t, and how to foster success through the power of yet.
She tells the story of a Chicago school where students had to pass a series of courses in order to graduate. If they did not successfully pass the courses they were given the grade of “not yet.” Dweck thought that was brilliant.
“If you get a failing grade, you feel like a failure,” she says, “But if you receive a not yet, it means you are on a growth track.”
In an effort to more fully understand how children cope with challenge and difficulty, Dweck gave a group of 10 year olds math problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of the children said things like, “I love a challenge,” or “I was hoping this would be informative.” Dweck says they had a growth mindset because they innately understood their abilities could be developed.
Another group of students thought their inability to solve the problems was tragic. They believed their intelligence was up for judgment and they failed. In fact, Dweck shared that in one study the young students said they would cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed. They also looked for someone who did worse than they did to make themselves feel better. Dweck refers to these students as having a fixed mindset - believing that personal qualities are carved in stone, which creates an urgency to prove one’s self over and over.
In a TED talk about mindset, Dweck asks, “How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of not yet? Are A’s so important to them that they have no idea how to dream big dreams? Are they carrying the need for constant validation with them into their future lives?”
Dweck contends that choosing to praise wisely would be helpful to children. Instead of praising intelligence or talent, praise progress, effort, strategies and improvement. This helps build children who are hardy and resilient.
She also points out that equality occurs when teachers create a growth mindset in their classrooms. For example, in one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem scored in the 95th percentile on the National Achievement Test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived in school. Also in one year, fourth grade students in the South Bronx who were way behind became the number one fourth grade class in New York on the state’s math test. And, in a year to a year and a half, Native American students on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top - and that district included affluent sections of Seattle, Washington. Dweck believes this happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before it made them feel dumb, but now effort and difficulty enable their neurons to make stronger connections.
“We can change students mindsets,” Dweck says. Every time children push out of their comfort zone the neurons in their brain form new stronger connections. Students who weren’t taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades, but those who were taught the growth mindset strategy saw their grades improve.
Dweck received a letter from a 13-year-old boy which said, “Dear Professor Dweck, I appreciate that your writing is based on solid scientific research. That’s why I decided to put it into practice. I put more effort into my school work, into my relationship with my family and into my relationship with kids at school and I experienced great improvement in all of these areas. I now realize I wasted most of my life.”
Are we raising children in the environment of yet?
Once we know that people are capable of such growth, it becomes a human right for children to live in places filled with yet. Let’s not waste the time we have with the kids in our sphere of influence. Let’s teach them the importance of mindset, praise their efforts and give them amazing opportunities to grow and become the resilient children we all know they have the potential to be.