A few weeks ago, some folks in my Twitter PLC announced that they were beginning a Book Chat about the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck hosted on Voxer. Voxer is an app which I had never used before but I now realize that it functions like a walkie talkie to a group of people or to an individual. I requested to be added to the “Mindset” Voxer group. After the organizers added me, I began to see how the Voxer group was communicating. First, I noted different time stamps throughout a day or week so people were posting when they were inspired to do so and not on a schedule. I joined after it had already begun and it was announced that we would focus on Chapter 3 for this week. I noticed that some participants posted pictures of the Mindset text that was annotated with reflections. I saw some messages that had been typed to the group, while there were also audio recordings that participants had posted about the book. I enjoy posting my educational thoughts on Twitter, but Voxer allows me to post more than 140 characters! Most importantly, it is allowing me to consider the reflections of other educators whom I respect.
After reading Chapters 1 – 3 of “Mindset”, I realized that it was time for me to not only post my thoughts on Voxer, but to also blog about my experience so far. The theme in the book so far is to focus on learning and improving in life, not just in the teaching arena. This book was written not only for educators, but for parents, businesses and any relationship. Carol Dweck so aptly refers to two types of mindsets that people develop: One is the FIXED Mindset and the other is the GROWTH mindset. If I have a fixed mindset, then I would believe that I have only a certain amount of ability and I would try to prove myself for a lifetime. If I have a growth mindset, I believe that I can use my God-given qualities to grow when I give effort. The author insists that one must ask herself, “What is my purpose?” and then chart a path to attain her chosen purpose. I may be born with a set of genes, but it is what I do with my ability that leads to future outcomes.
Praising my own children and students for their effort will allow them to see that their talent and intelligence can be cultivated because they weren’t given a limited ability in their genetic code. It is important to not over criticize my children and to notice and praise their effort because I want the optimal outcome for my own children and my students. Results from a published study this year from Utrecht University in the Netherlands indicates that over-praising children with comments like “That’s incredibly beautiful?” versus “That’s nice!” can be harmful for children with low-esteem, but be helpful for those with high self esteem. The study indicated that more challenging tasks would be chosen by children with high self esteem who received inflated praise. On the other hand, difficult challenges were not as likely to be accepted by children with low self esteem if they were given inflated praise. So, it depends on the child and the parenting/teaching style. Parents should purposely give praise to fit the child while using words to promote the effort that was given and not just praise the ability. Giving specific compliments about what the child has done right as the child showed effort will promote a growth mindset in the child. Creativity will flourish when we help our children and students “…convert…life’s setbacks into future successes.” (from p.11 of “Mindset”) If a mindset is a belief about yourself, then parents and teachers can give the gift each day to their children as they offer words to develop the thinking of a child instead of just focusing on the fixed mindset where one must prove himself again and again.
Challenges are seen differently based on which mindset one adopts. Easy challenges feel good to those with a fixed mindset while hard challenges excite the growth minded individual. I have examined my mindset and realize that I have a growth mindset. When I was in high school and had to practice for hours to memorize the nuances of a multi-page piano piece, I gave effort. First, I would sight read the difficult composition with my teacher by my side and began to realize that this new piece was hard for me. I didn’t give up though. I would stop at frustrating parts, practice the right hand then practice the left hand’s notes for a few measures to help me see where I had gone wrong. I didn’t just throw my hands up and quit stating, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure.” even when I had practiced for hours and I still didn’t have it just right. I know for a fact that memorizing piano pieces in preparation for a Music Teacher Federation rating or for my Spring Recital in the beautiful Alumni House at UNC-Greensboro gave me a way to challenge and push myself. I wasn’t proving myself over and over, rather, I was challenging myself to do what I could not previously do. I got out of doing dishes most nights because my parents encouraged me to practice piano after dinner. This must be why for years, I dreaded cleaning up dishes as an adult. I now like to see my kitchen clean so I have learned to challenge myself now with cleaning up as I cook instead of piling all the dishes in the sink. Nevertheless, I think that playing piano for a purpose set me up to enter college as one who could recognize a challenge and set a course to attain my goals.
With the encouragement of my piano teacher, Mrs. Matthews, whom I had from third grade through twelfth grade, I heard her point out each week how to re-position my fingers for optimal outcome and transitions between measures of the music. She would remind me of the musical emotions that were written on the music while she followed along with the music on her lap once I started memorizing the piece. I didn’t remember every nuance of a musical composition but I began to embed my teacher’s suggestions each week until I was ready to share it in public. I have begun to see this same mindset in my own children who practice their piano pieces in preparation for public celebrations such as their Spring Recital at a local church or their Fourth of July Piano Party at their piano teacher’s house. They see that their practicing results in the feeling of competence due to the effort that they have given. Their teacher encourages them to play all of their memorized songs and calls the songs that they’ve learned their “repertoire”. My girls like to play their “repertoire” of songs which I believe helps them remember where they have come from and boosts their confidence in new songs that they are learning. Piano lessons and public performances of them are akin to a soccer player who practices for a game working on specific skills that need sharpening or a CEO who checks in on what has gone well and discovers areas of growth needed in a company.
My reading of the “Mindset” book has encouraged me to determine which mindset that I operate from, then recognize the mindsets of others, to speak life and growth into my own children, husband, students, and colleagues as they give effort to accomplish a task and to be open to criticism. I am a work in progress and will always be. The wisdom found in the following Scripture Passage from the Bible in Philippians Chapter 3 verses 12 – 17 further connects to having a growth mindset:
Verse 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Verse 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
Verse 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Verse 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Verse 17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
On p.56 of “Mindset”, Carol Dweck refers to Mozart who for 10 years as a composer did not produce work that was original or interesting. In fact, he would piece the work of other composers into his own work until finally he took on the authentic role of a composer. He not only embraced his own ability and style after 10 years of trying, but transformed his previous capacity into the beautiful music that we know he originally composed. I am so inspired by this story because it gives me hope. As a teacher and parent, I am constantly borrowing other strategies and techniques from others who appear to be successful and applying it to my situation. I use the knowledge of the others to enhance my own ability. I begin to embrace ideas and then run with them to make them into my version that will work with my children and students. It took Mozart time to try out his own musical style but we see that with the scaffolds of other musicians’ pieces, he became great. He always sought to be better and to thoughtfully arrange music. I wonder what kind of praise that Mozart received for those 10 years when he wasn’t confident as a composer. Whether it was documented in history or not, I have an idea that he was praised either by a friend or to himself for his effort and not just his ability. Carol Dweck found in a study that she mentions on p. 73 of “Mindset” that “…praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.” Again, I am realizing that there is wisdom in following the pattern of those more knowledgeable others who I can look to for inspiration and clarity on my journey as a wife, parent and teacher. I want to further develop my ability to give specific praise that focuses on the effort that was given by myself, by my family members, by my students, and by my colleagues. I am in the process of developing a list of sentence starters which will help me give authentic praise for effort. If you have ideas to add to my Effort Praise List, please let me know.
I have included in this post some of my other favorite quotes from Carol Dweck’s book. I would also like to invite you to consider your reflective response to the quotes below:
p. 7 “…people with his (growth) mindset believe that…a person’s true potential is unknown; that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
p.7 “…the belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning. Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?…Why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
p.11 “If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning,…you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.”
p.33 “Even in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.”
p.34 “Instead of letting the (negative) experience define him, he took control of it. He used it to become a better player and, he believes, a better person.”
p.41 “People with the growth mindset…believe..even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements…They may appreciate endowment, but they admire effort, for not matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”
p.48 “The growth mindset does allow people to love what the’re doing – and to continue to love it in the face of difficulties…In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail – or if you’re not the best – it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues.”
p.51 “…when (college) students had the growth mindset, they gained confidence in themselves as they repeatedly met and mastered the challenges of the university. However, when students had the fixed mindset, their confidence eroded in the face of those same challenges…people with the fixed mindset have to nurse their confidence and protect it.
p.53 “…even when you think you’re not good at something, you can still plunge into it wholeheartedly and stick to it. Actually, sometimes you plunge into something because you’re not good at it. This is a wonderful feature of the growth mindset. You don’t have to think you’re already great something to want to do it and to enjoy doing it.”