Mindsets change – but that’s not always a good thing.

Is the ability to change your mindset a good thing or a bad thing?

In one of Dweck’s experiments she was able to change students’ mindset by simply changing the type of feedback she gave students.

To paraphrase this experiment, 7th grade students were given an easy task, one that they tended to complete successfully. They were then divided into two groups. One group was praised for being smart (a fixed message), the other for working hard (a growth message). Both groups were then offered the opportunity to do a harder test, one that might challenge them and give them the opportunity to learn something.

The results were startling. Of the students praised for being smart, only 50% opted for the harder test. Of the group that were praised for working hard, 90% opted for the harder test. (70% of the control group took the hard test).

Clearly we can change students’ mindsets quite easily. But is that a good thing? I don’t think so.

When I reflect on this particular experiment, my attention is always drawn not to those that responded to the feedback they were given, but rather to those that didn’t.

What was it about the lived experience of the 50% of students that ignored the fixed praise, and still adopted the more growth oriented response of taking the harder test?

And what was it about the lived experience of the 10% of students that were given the effort praise, that led them to ignore the growth feedback and take the more fixed response of sticking with the more likely success of the easier test?

Being able to change a student’s mindset as easily as Dweck showed in this experiment is a double-edged sword. It can change both ways!

The other important question, not answered by this experiment, is how many of those students would make the same choice if offered the harder test in six months time? Would 90% of those originally praised for working hard still make the growth mindset choice?

As educators we would hope to help students develop a more growth oriented response. However, we’d want that to be a consistent response, not one that sways easily in the face of something so simple as one small phrase of feedback. Having helped students develop a growth response, we’d not want it to easily be reverted back to a fixed one!

Our role as educators is not just to help students develop a growth mindset, but to develop a robust and enduring growth mindset, the sort of growth mindset that resists the many fixed messages and experiences that a student might encounter.

We must seek to not only shift a student’s mindset, but also to make it stick!

As educators, our view must be on building a weight of experience, and a deep understanding of how effective effort leads to real growth. In this way, the growth mindsets we develop in our student’s will become both robust and enduring.



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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