On mindsets and straw-men

mindset info graphic“Mindset” is solid. The straw-man-arguments against it, are, well, flimsy.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been bothered by the backlash against the “growth Mindset” perspective in education. I admit that I found Dweck’s book Mindset a little lackluster, but for my own practice of teaching and writing, I haven’t been concerned because I’ve read the original research and don’t find it difficult to apply in reasonable and personable ways that do not do damage to other important perspectives in motivational psychology.  Over the last few years I’ve written about the application of the mindset idea in many posts here on this blog in fact, and I promote it broadly in my applied work.

I’ve internalized the perspective so much so, that the recent critiques of the ideal (I’m specifically thinking of this one by Alfie Kohn) have left me somewhat shocked. Despite what Kohn states, “mindset” perspectives can indeed co-exist with (even compliment, in fact) what we know to be true about the effect of praise on motivation (said another way, the premise of Kohn’s critique is wrong). Knowing, however, that thinking and memories shift over time though, I felt compelled to go back and do some re-reading, to make sure I wasn’t missing something. And what I came up with was, simply, my original dislike for the book — not the perspective nor the research. A quick read of the book, without background knowledge in motivational psychology, I suppose CAN lead to some poor application and does indeed open the door for critiques like Kohn’s. The book is rife with personal testimony and light on deep theoretical discussion.Whereas writing that way makes the book more accessible, it also opens the door for critique.

Since reading Kohn’s mistaken dismissal this summer, I’ve been wanting to write my own response to the critiques of the mindset perspective to help blow down the strawman, but I’ve been pressed for time. Thankfully, however, it turns out that Carol Dweck is on it, and has started to do so herself, in both her research and in her writing. This little piece, from Education Week, is well worth the read. I see it as a thoughtful and important “user’s guide” perspective and commentary on the current backlash against fostering growth mindsets. Dr. Dweck very reasonably states, at the end of the essay:

My colleagues and I are taking a growth-mindset stance toward our message to educators. Maybe we originally put too much emphasis on sheer effort. Maybe we made the development of a growth mindset sound too easy. Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures. We are on a growth-mindset journey, too.

So if you too see the power of the mindset approach to achievement motivation, stay tuned. Dweck is making her work and its application better, with the intent of helping teachers improve their practice of nurturing our youths’ growth and helping them reach their potential.

I first posted slightly briefer remarks about Carol Dweck’s latest updates to the mindset perspective on my companion Facebook page. You are welcome to visit me over there too! Or, for further reading here on my blog site, here’s a sampling of some of the CogEdu posts where I discuss “mindset” applications:

 

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About EricaK

As a professor and a parent, I think a lot about education. Turns out that the topics I teach (e.g., cognitive and developmental psychology) inform my thoughts about teaching, and that is what I want to write about here.