growth mindset, fixed mindset: some thoughts on carol dweck’s work

Today in my awesome CO301D class, we’re writing about our responses to a TED talk by Carol Dweck. Here are the prompts:

What’s the “power of not yet” for you as a writer-teacher? Think about the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” for you in your history as a writer. Also, was there anything you found to be problematic about her ideas? It’s okay to push back. Remember what Mike Rose says about “being skeptical of the big idea, the hot theory.”

Dweck’s ideas are pretty well-known and valuable, too. In the talk, she talks about her research with kids who see failure (mainly on tests) as a function of their personal make-up, as an indication that they’re not up to snuff, and nothing in their power can change that. They have a “fixed mindset.” There’s another group, though, the “growth mindset groups, that put themselves in the “not yet” (e.g., category, as in “I didn’t do so well on that particular task, but it’s only a matter of time until I can do better.”

Thinking about those ideas is powerful for me as a teacher, a parent, and a writer because it permits the possibility of growth and change and silences (at least for a while) all those “mean girl voices” in my head who might tempt me to think I or my students or my own children will ever get “there.”

What I find troubling in her particular talk, however, is how she defines growth because it conflates achievement with scores on a standardized test and then links these to more complex issues like race and class. It’s just more complicated than that. Just because a kid didn’t do well on a standardized measure doesn’t mean they believe they can’t grow or aren’t growing. Likewise, just because they do better on those same measures after being introduced to the Dweck’s ideas (or their teachers do) doesn’t mean that their sense of themselves has changed.

I need to think more about this, but time’s up for now.

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