Christine Gross-Loh: Could you tell me about the development of the idea of growth mindset? What was it intended to correct? What were you seeing that you felt growth mindset would help improve?
Carol Dweck: I’ve always been interested, since graduate school, in why some children wilt and shrink back from challenges and give up in the face of obstacles, while others avidly seek challenges and become even more invested in the face of obstacles. So this has been my primary question for over 40 years. At some point, my graduate students and I realized that a student’s mindset was at the foundation of whether [he or she] loved challenges and persisted in the face of failure.
When students had more of a fixed mindset—the idea that abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount and that’s that—they saw challenges as risky. They could fail, and their basic abilities would be called into question. When they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that they didn’t have the abilities that they cherished.
In contrast, when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges were the way to do it. Learning something new, something hard, sticking to things—that’s how you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback weren’t about your abilities, they were information you could use to help yourself learn. With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.
Gross-Loh: When I first interviewed you about growth mindset a few years ago, I remember that it was a relatively unknown idea. But growth mindset is now so popular that I’ll hear people who aren’t steeped in educational theory say, “Praise the effort, not the child (or the outcome).” Why do you think this idea struck such a chord, and how did you find out there were people misunderstanding it?
Dweck: Many educators were dissatisfied with drilling for high-stakes tests. They understood that student motivation had been a neglected area, especially of late. So many educators, as well as many parents, were excited to implement something that might re-energize kids to focus on learning again, not just memorization and test taking, but on deeper, more joyful learning.
But a colleague of mine, Susan Mackie, was doing workshops with educators in Australia and observed that many of them were saying they got growth mindset and were running with it, but did not understand it deeply. She told me, “I’m seeing a lot of false growth mindset.” I just did not get it initially—growth mindset is a very straightforward concept, and besides, why would people settle for a false growth mindset if they could have a real one? But I started keeping a list of all the ways people were misunderstanding growth mindset. When the list got long enough, I started speaking and writing about it.
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