Dweck’s "Mindset" – Growing through Failure

Fluetsch, Christopher
IL
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, New York: Ballentine Books.

Carol Dweck’s Mindset is almost a decade old, but it is currently enjoying a revival of interest in education circles. A number of posts on this blog cover articles written about this book, but no post has yet covered the book itself.
Dweck’s book concerns her research into how people approach problems. Dweck maintains that people take one of two approaches to problems. They either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
At its most basic level, a fixed mindset occurs when a person believes that intelligence, ability or skill in some area is fixed, that is that it cannot be significantly changed. The person considers themselves either smart or dumb, talented or not. For a fixed mindset person, a problem is an insurmountable obstacle. A failure indicates that the person is simply not good enough.
A growth mindset individual, however, believes in limitless human potential. A problem becomes an opportunity for growth, a chance to learn a new skill or a new approach to a problem. Dweck maintains that growth mindset individuals are more likely to be successful in the long term, as they continue to learn new skills. Growth mindset people are also more likely to be happy and content, as they never feel as if a problem is unsolvable.
The recent revival of this book is directly related to the need for students to learn the 21st century skills of adaptability and life-long learning. A common phrase in modern education is “We are are teaching our students skills they will need for jobs that have not even been created.” The basic idea is that the pace of change is accelerating, and people can grow and adapt to new conditions will be more successful than people who cannot.
Unfortunately, Dweck tends to reason beyond her data. She has a potent idea with some research behind it, but she extrapolates the idea into a binary worldview, where one either is fixed or growth. Everything bad comes from having a fixed mindset, everything good from growth. She oversells her idea, ruining a bit of her credibility.

Nevertheless, Mindset has some excellent advice for helping students cope with change. It is probably not necessary to read the entire book, as a number of chapters become repetitive. However, the first three chapters and the chapter on teaching are valuable additions for anyone’s reading plan.

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