By Sam Piha
There has been a great deal of buzz about growth mindsets and its impact on young people's learning and development. Below we offer an interview with Eduardo Briceño, conducted in January 2015.
Eduardo is the CEO of Mindset Works, which he co-founded with Carol Dweck, Lisa Blackwell and others, to help schools cultivate student ownership of their own learning. With his fellow mindsetters, Eduardo helps schools build learner capacity and success through practices that instill growth mindset beliefs and foundational learning skills in students, teachers and the broader community.
We invited Eduardo to speak at our last How Kids Learn IV conference in San Francisco but he was unable to attend. We featured a video of Eduardo describing growth mindsets and we highly encourage our readers to watch it. Eduardo agreed to participate in an interview in lieu of his attending the conference. His responses are shown below. (Note: Mindset researcher, Carissa Romero at Stanford University, presented at the How Kids Learn IV conference, and a video of her presentation can be found here.)
Q: There is a lot of buzz about the influence of a growth mindset. For those who are new to this concept, can you briefly describe what is meant by “growth mindset”?
A: Yes, growth mindset awareness and practice is multiplying, which is very exciting. Even the U.S. President and First Lady have incorporated growth mindset language into their speeches!
Discovered by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a growth mindset is the understanding that personal qualities are malleable and that we can develop our abilities. People who understand that they can grow their intelligence (which is our ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills) and other abilities, behave in learning-oriented ways. They challenge themselves to learn what they don’t already know, they seek feedback, they reflect, they view effort as something we can all benefit from rather than as a sign of weakness, they value and learn from mistakes, and they persevere in the face of setbacks. As a result, they achieve higher rates of growth and success.
Q: What is opposite of a “growth mindset”?
A: The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which is seeing personal qualities as fixed. For example, when people categorize others as “math people”, or “athletic”, or “artistic”, in fixed ways, rather than as competencies they have developed over time, or when they see other people as incapable of developing certain abilities, they’re exhibiting a fixed mindset. People who are in a fixed mindset tend to want to stay within their comfort zone, they become defensive when they receive feedback, they view effort as a sign of weakness and inability, they see mistakes as evidence of being incapable, and they disengage when things get hard. As a result, they don’t grow as much as people with a growth mindset and they achieve lower levels of success.
The great news, is that anybody can develop and strengthen their growth mindsets!
Q: There is research that suggest that a growth mindset is a good predictor of improved learning. Can you speak to this research?
A: Yes, there’s a lot of research that show that people with a growth mindset learn and improve more, and as a result they reach higher levels of ability and success. There is a deep and growing body of research on this, in domains as varied as K-12 education, higher education, the workplace, sports, health, and relationships. Several of these studies can be accessed from Carol Dweck, Ph.D.’s Stanford profile page. Another great literature review that summarizes this body of research in K-12 education is: Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners (Farrington et. al.).
Q: How are mindsets developed?
A: Mindsets are beliefs. They’re developed like any other beliefs: from our observations of the world, ourselves, and people around us. When other people believe that abilities are fixed, they tend to say and do things that reflect those beliefs and that lead us and others to view abilities as fixed. For example, if we hear other people talking about who is smart, or attributing our success to being smart, it conveys that intelligence is fixed, which is a fixed mindset. When our bosses don’t believe people can improve and as a result don’t give and receive constructive feedback, it leads us to believe that people can’t improve. When we see IQ as something that is fixed, rather than as what it was intended for (to measure cognitive abilities at any point in time), it leads us to foster a fixed mindset.
We can cultivate growth mindsets by learning that intelligence and abilities are malleable. We can learn the scientific background behind the plasticity of the brain, or how experts develop their high levels of expertise, and how we can do the same. We can undertake learning oriented behaviors and measure our progress over time. And we can support one another in our growth journeys. This is a lifelong undertaking. If you want to learn more about other strategies, you can start your journey by subscribing to our growth mindset newsletter, or reading the article Mindsets and Student Agency or Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, or taking the Mindset Works EducatorKit growth mindset teacher training course, or doing the Brainology® curriculum with your students.
Q: Does it take a long time to help kids develop a growth mindset?
A: Research shows quick effects from growth mindset interventions, but developing a growth mindset, and more broadly becoming a better and better learner, is a lifelong journey. If we reflect throughout our lives about our habits and what’s working and not, we will always continue to improve, to strengthen our mindsets, and to become more effective learners. The schools that we serve at Mindset Works put a lot of effort to building and deepening growth mindset cultures, which is not a quick fix, is a way of being and aligning as a community.
Q: What can leaders in out-of-school time do to promote a growth mindset in their youth programs?
A: Lots! As mentioned above, they can teach the scientific background behind the plasticity of the brain, or how experts develop their high levels of expertise, and how we can do the same. They can speak with students in growth mindset language, teach them how to give and receive growth-oriented feedback and other learning strategies, and help them self-assess their progress and strategies over time.
Q: Are there resources that are available to learn more about the practical application of this research? Where would you send interested out-of-school workers to find these resources?
A: Certainly! Our whole Mindset Works website is devoted to that. You can find free-resources including our growth mindset newsletter, and you can register for our Mindset Works EducatorKit teacher training course or Brainology® curriculum. Check out Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Happy learning!
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.