Mindset and the Psychology of Success - A Tutor's Perspective
For the last few weeks, I have not been able to stop telling every person I know, and a few I’ve just met, about the epiphany I found in Mindset: A New Psychology of Success, by Dr. Carol Dweck (http://mindsetonline.com/). Ask my colleagues, my students, and that guy who lip-syncs to dance pop hits in the Union Square subway: this book provides a startlingly clear perspective on our own biases, how the way we talk to students affects them, and how, sometimes, success and failure can both be surprisingly detrimental to learning. In Mindset, Dr. Dweck explores fixed and growth mindsets. The fixed mindset is characterized by a belief that abilities and traits, from math aptitude to relationship skills to athletic talent, are basically innate and unchangeable. If you got it, flaunt it and garner the validation that, as a fixed-mindsetter, you probably crave. If you don’t – if the first pancake doesn’t come out right—you might as well trash the batter and say you wanted scrambled eggs to begin with.
With a growth mindset, one looks past the dangling carrot of immediate validation. It’s not how quickly and effortlessly one can reach it that’s important; it’s what can be learned along the way. A growth mindset seeks out challenges and tends to see disappointments as opportunities to learn rather than confirmations of unconquerable failings. If the first pancake doesn’t come out right, consider how to make the second one better.
It’s not hard to see which mindset allows for more exploration and improvement (not to mention eventual mastery of pancake science past the first lumpy mess). Dr. Dweck expands on this intuition, exploring mindsets with examples of athletes, students, and CEOs to help readers identify their own unconscious patterns. She also explains how even supposedly positive fixed-mindset feedback—like praising a student’s effortless perfect grades or uncanny free-throw ability—can produce students who disdain effort, refuse challenges, and ultimately fall short of their potential.
That last part has already made me totally reconsider how I interact with my students. Rather than praising their perfect first pancakes, so to speak, I’ve been focusing more on the challenges they struggle to surmount, the mistakes they make and catch, and the commitment they make to their studies and, more importantly, keep. We are not aiming for perfect first pancakes here—this job would be fairly bland if we were. The real goal is that, when they’re done with their batter and looking at the outcome, each pancake is a little better than the one under it. And chances are that sticking to that goal will lead students, ultimately, to a pretty great stack.
Written by Olga Kreimer, Tutor Associates Math and Spanish Tutor
Read David's perspective on Mindset here.