What are we more in awe of; natural ability or hard work? A lot of people in education and sport claim to really value the importance of growth mindset, but are we secretly holding a ‘natural talent bias’? If so, how do we overcome this and develop a growth mindset?
A fascinating study looked to examine exactly this question. Researchers told professional musicians about two different pianists, who were equal in current achievement. The first, they were told, was ‘a natural’, who had early evidence of innate ability. The second, was labelled as ‘a striver’, as they had demonstrated high levels of motivation and persistence.
Despite previously stating that hard work and dedication are more important than natural ability for musicians, when asked which pianist they would hire and which they think will go on to have a better career, the participants were more likely to choose the ‘naturals’. It seems that although we may publicly say we value hard work and persistence, when push comes to shove, we may be blinded by a natural talent bias.
GROWTH MINDSET WORKSHOPS
So if we can suspend and overcome the ‘talent bias’, there are many ways to helps students nurture a growth mindset. Popular strategies include praising behaviours such as effort and curiosity, as well as asking them certain questions to start positive conversations.
We have previously blogged about how not to teach growth mindset (hint: it involves not using this popular image as it spends way too much time on emphasising behaviours you want to avoid) So what do we suggest? In our student growth mindset workshop, we highlight five other strategies that can help students develop their mindset and their attitude towards learning:
Don’t Rush To “I Can’t” – When people start a new task, or are doing one that is very difficult, it is sometimes tempting to say “I can’t do this” or “I can’t be bothered”. We call this “Rushing to I Can’t”. With a bit of effort, students may surprise themselves by how well they can do the task and how much they enjoy it.
The Power of ‘Yet’ – this simple word can have a big impact. There is a huge difference between saying “I am not good at this” and “I am not good at this yet”. By adding the word yet, it suggests they may get there with some hard work and resilience.
The way in which we talk to ourselves has a big impact on how we think and feel. Despite making a big impact, it is something that is not often explicitly taught. It is often assumed that students know how to helpfully talk to themselves. This is something we explored more in this blog here.
Ask yourself “What would I do differently next time?” – This is a great question to ask after a setback. It stops you dwelling on the past and helps you reflect and focus on what you need to improve on in the future.
This question is one of the nine questions we recommend for developing and improving metacognition (which in plain English is about becoming aware and in control of your own thought process). This technique has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective for helping students improve their performance. You can read more about it in our blog, ‘9 Questions to Improve Metacognition’
Failing Better – Everyone experiences failure at some stage in their life. But can you fail better? This doesn’t mean failing more often. It means learning as much as possible from the failure experience. One way to fail better is if you ask someone for feedback and then actually use it. There are many other ways that people can fail better – you can read more about them in our blog, ‘7 Ways to Fail Better’.
Try New Things – Having a sense of curiosity and courage can be really helpful. It can help you learn new things. Sometimes new equals the unknown which equals scary. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sometimes new experiences can be the most rewarding and most exciting. Stepping out of your comfort zone once in a while is a good way to expand your horizons and develop your mindset.
Why do we suffer from a ‘natural talent bias’? Because effortless ability is seductive. It makes the difficult look easy. It hints at untold ability if it could be matched with hard work and motivation.
If we can help the people we work with understand how to develop a growth mindset, we give them a better chance of success. Growth mindset is, as its core, a theory about learning. Being open to feedback, persisting when things get a little bit hard and having a sense of curiosity are all key components that make someone a better learner.
If you are a teacher and want to learn more about developing a growth mindset culture in your classroom and school, you may be interested in our Growth Mindset CPD or, if you are already familiar with the research and want a more advanced and nuanced understanding, our Advanced Growth Mindset CPD may be ideal for you.
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.