What We're Reading: Mindset and The Times
A recent article in the New York Times reported on the growing trend of private kindergartens fretting that the ECAA, an ERB test that applicants take to gain admission, can no longer be trusted. According to the Times, an increasing number of parents are using private tutoring agencies to prepare their children for this test, and scores have become unreasonably and unreliably inflated. While our group doesn’t help preschool-age students prepare for the ECAA (our students start in middle school), reading this article made me think of a book we read months ago as part of our TA Book Club: Mindset, by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University.
Mindset makes the case that students develop one of two mindsets toward learning, fixed or growth. Fixed-mindset students come to see intelligence and capability as fixed, innate qualities. They are quick to give up on difficult tasks, thinking that they do not possess the necessary smarts or talent. Early setbacks discourage them from taking on new challenges and new subjects that may initially seem hard. Students who have a particularly strong fixed mindset may grow up choosing only to engage in easy, once-mastered tasks that serve to repeatedly confirm their intelligence to others (and to themselves).
On the other end of the spectrum, students with growth mindsets go about learning in a different way. They enjoy the challenge of figuring out new and difficult material. Their reward is not a letter grade or the approval of a teacher; it is the learning process itself. Growth-mindset learners wrestling with challenging material do not ascribe their struggles to a lack of intelligence or talent; they simply seek to improve.
It turns out that individuals with growth mindsets generally fare better than their fixed-mindset peers. When Dweck tested individuals to determine their dominant mindset and tracked their subsequent performance within their fields, she found that growth mindsets end up leading to higher levels of skill mastery. These results might seem to indicate that students with fixed mindsets are locked in to a cycle of underachievement and insecurity, but fortunately, Dweck’s research also indicates that students can change their mindsets.
What are schools saying when they worry about students whose scores are higher than they would be had they not prepared for a test? Are they saying that they’d like to see every child’s true “intelligence”? But there is no such thing, at least to someone with a growth mindset. It seems to me that schools should be interested in admitting students who have the type of mindset that propels them to become great learners, the same mindset that propels them to tackle and master difficult material on entrance exams. What we really need is a test that will indicate which students have growth mindsets, or no test at all.
Written by David Oblath, President and Co-Founder of Tutor Associates