Most people in schools or in coaching are now probably familiar with Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory. The theory encourages people to view ability as something that can be improved. Research suggests that those with a growth mindset persist for longer, cope better with setbacks, choose more challenging tasks and seek out higher quality feedback.
But how best do we help students develop their growth mindset? Our recent series on ‘Growth Mindset: Stories and Science’ looks at ways to capture student’s attention (with stories) and relates it to psychological research (the science).
Story #1 Muhammad Ali
In the early 1960s boxer Sonny Liston fought heavyweight champion Floyd Paterson. Sonny Liston won, with the fight lasting less than 2 minutes. A year later, they fought again, with the fight lasting only 4 seconds longer. Sonny Liston was the undoubted heavy weight champion of the world.
A few years later, Sonny agreed to fight a rookie boxer, Cassius Clay (later to be known as Muhammad Ali). Prior to the fight, 43 of the 46 ringside reporters tipped Liston to win. Clay surprised everyone by beating the champion, and going on to be one of the greatest of all time.
How did he do it? Muhammad Ali was known for training hard. His coach, Angelo Dundee said, “I never had to ask him to come to the gym. He was always the first in and last to leave.” Ali himself once famously said, “I hated every minute of training. I said suffer now and live the rest of your life like a champion.”
Story #2 Beyoncé
Beyoncé has sold over 170 million records worldwide and won 20 Grammy awards; however, her success was not always such a sure thing. Early on in her career, Beyoncé had her record contract cancelled, and the future looked bleak.
It is easy for young students to look at their role models and assume they have always been successful. Beyoncé advises against this fake perception, as perfection is an illusion. She says, "If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow."
Science #1 Your Brain Can Develop
The more you engage in a task, the more parts of your brain develop. One famous study on taxi drivers illustrated this. To become a licensed black cab driver you need to pass a test called The Knowledge. It takes several years to study for it, as you have to learn 320 routes, 25,000 streets and over 20,000 landmarks.
Researchers found that whilst studying for this test, the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with memory and spatial awareness, gets significantly better. The implication is that your brain and your abilities are not fixed entities. They can develop and improve.
Science #2 Transition and Resilience
Students face many changes and transitions during their time at school. The step up from Year 6 to Year 7 is well documented. During our experience in running workshops, many students and staff tell us that the jump from Year 11 to Year 12 is one of the biggest in terms of workload and expectations.
A study by David Yeager and Carol Dweck looked at the role growth mindset can play in school transitions. They found that students with a growth mindset tend to cope better with changes and were more likely to finish challenging maths courses. That is not to say that growth mindset is a magic cure, but rather that it can be a slice of the pie that helps.
For even more info, take a look at our page How to Develop a Growth Mindset, where you'll find links to blogs and research.