In her updated book, Carol Dweck urges people to be wary of unintentionally nurturing a false growth mindset rather than the real thing. More specifically, Carol expresses her concern about 2 distinct but interrelated things – a misunderstanding about:
What a growth mindset is
How to nurture a growth mindset
What is a growth mindset?
A growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities. It’s that simple.
What then is a false growth mindset?
A false growth mindset involves someone taking an admirable quality they possess and labelling it as a growth mindset.
Carol talks about being open to new ideas and being adaptable as two common qualities involved in false growth mindsets.
The benefits of having a genuine growth mindset are that it primes you to:
Relish the challenge of developing your abilities
Do the hard work needed to develop your abilities
In contrast, relying on personal qualities is akin to adopting the fixed mindset.
4 Ways to Nurture a False Growth Mindset
Use Labels in Praise
When used well, praise can reinforce desirable behaviours such as effort. Yet, if you praise the wrong thing, you are nurturing a false growth mindset.
The most common example of such perilous praise involves praising abilities rather than actions. Comments such as you are so creative, smart, sporty … are not helpful.
Praise Mediocre Effort
A fundamental tenet of the growth mindset is that you can increase your intelligence through hard work. So, it makes sense to praise your students for working hard.
Yet, you should only praise genuine effort. If you praise your students for lackluster effort, you nurture a false growth mindset where working hard doesn’t matter.
Only Praise Effort
In her book Mindset, Carol is clear that teachers can nurture a growth mindset by reinforcing behaviours that lead to learning. Hard work or effort is a critical behaviour that you should reinforce. However, effort is not the only behaviour that you should encourage.
Sometimes trying harder is not enough. You should also encourage your students to:
Try a different approach when what they are doing isn’t working
Ask for help when they cannot understand or do something on their own
While praising the process (effort, trying new approaches, asking for help) is a key part of nurturing a growth mindset, it only one side of the coin. You must also link those things to your students’ academic performance.
When asked what keeps her up at night, Carol responded:
It’s the fear that the mindset concept will be used to make kids feel good when they’re not learning—just like the failed self-esteem movement
When students are not learning, you can acknowledge their genuine efforts. However, this should not be done a consolation prize. For example, you didn’t do well on your math test, but you tried hard and that’s what matters.
Rather, to avoid a false growth mindset, you need help them redirect their efforts until their learning improves.
You should also help them to link achievement and the processes they used when they have performed well.