Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Your response may be: “Tell me what they are and then I might be able to answer you”.
People with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that intelligence is static and can’t be changed. Prior to the ‘90s, people believed in Attribution Theory (Wiener, 1972) that learning and achievement was due to the attributes that you were born with; “I’m dumb because my parents were dumb”.
More recently, science has taught us a lot more about the brain and how people learn (Bransford et al, 1999). Even more recently, science has taught us about epigenetics and brain plasticity (Leaf, 2015) and the impacts this has had on teaching and learning in schools (Dweck, 2008).
This research has revealed that people can do their own brain-surgery and become smarter, just through increasing their effort. Whilst the genes we are born with give us a predisposition to have a certain level of intelligence, we can control whether we accept that (‘make it come true’) or not. By choosing to be smarter and working hard, we can change the DNA of our brain!
This is ground-breaking and fantastic news for both students and adults. No longer do we as teachers at MCC accept it when students say things like:
“I can’t solve problems”
“That’s too hard for me”
“I can’t do maths”
We teach our students that they can if they want to; they need to change their mindset from being a fixed mindset to being a growth mindset. By embracing challenges outside what we believe we are capable of, and persevering, using grit, not giving up, learning from our mistakes, we can do whatever we want to do.
Will you support us in encouraging our students to develop a growth mindset?
Some parents I speak to say things like “He won’t be able to do that”, or “He can’t do science”, and so on. Parents who say these things believe they are being helpful by shielding and protecting their child from the difficulties of life. Research has shown however, that this fosters a fixed mindset in learning and also does students a disservice in that they are not encouraged to push through the pain barrier, learn resilience, and learn strategies for how to deal with failure. These are all qualities that they will need to survive and live successful lives in the 21st Century (Denamy & Perry, 2014).
We ask that you not only support us in putting these scientific findings front and centre in classrooms, but also encourage you to think about how they might impact on your personal lives; we do not have to suffer depression because our parents did or stand by and watch our children suffer anxiety or have learning difficulties because ‘it’s in the family’.
Don’t say things to your child from a fixed mindset which might send them a message that 'it’s OK if you’re not good at maths; I wasn’t either’. Rather, you might say “I wasn’t good at maths but I could have been if I’d chosen to put more effort into it”.
Dr Thelma Perso
Director of Teaching and Learning