Why a 'Growth Mindset' Won't Work By Peter DeWitt

Why a 'Growth Mindset' Won't Work

Stanford professor Carol Dweck's work is being used all over the world. When we look at what school should epitomize...the growth mindset should be at the center. Many adults who work in schools say we need to get away from a fixed mindset, because a student's intelligence and future are not set. There is always room for growth.

But what if our actions in school contribute to the reason why a growth mindset has a low effect size?

Recently, John Hattie gave a keynote at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Over 1,000 attendees from all over the world sat in the audience when Hattie gave a keynote focusing on The Science of How We Learn, which is the title of his book that was published 2 years ago.

As Hattie was going through the Skill, the Will and the Thrill of learning, he put up a slide that said, "Growth vs. Fixed mindset - .19." For those of you who don't know, and for full disclosure, I work with John as a Visible Learning Trainer. I gave up being a school principal in a community I loved to work with him. I write about his work from time to time because it provokes some of my best thinking. And because I'm such a huge fan of the growth mindset (I barely graduated from high school and was retained in elementary school), this slide poked my own hornet's nest.

We usually look for effect sizes that are .40 or above, which is what Hattie refers to as the Hinge Point. The Hinge Point provides a year's worth of growth for a year's input. A .19 is concerning because it is so much lower than the Hinge Point. The beauty of Hattie's work is that an influence with a low effect size (ex. Growth vs. Fixed Mindset) doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. The low effect size may be due to how the adults in the classroom or school building approach the influence, and we may have to change how we approach it. 

As Hattie continued to speak, he said the reason why growth vs. fixed mindset has a low effect size is due to the fact that adults have a fixed mindset and keep treating students accordingly, so right now the effect size is low, and will continue to stay low unless we change our practices in the classroom. We put students in ability groups, they get scores on high stakes tests that help label them, and then we place them in Academic Intervention Services (AIS) which adds to their fixed mindset. Once students enter into AIS or Special Education, very few leave.

Students are conditioned to have a fixed mindset, and it's due to us.

What can we do differently?

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