I’ve been catching up on the books and websites recommended to me by Lindsey Sladen, the teacher in charge of implementing Breakthrough to Learning throughout the school. This week I’ve been reading Mindset by Carol S. Dweck.
The sub-title: HOW YOU CAN FULFILL YOUR POTENTIAL places the books in the self-improvement tradition so strong in America. This is not immediately attractive to a sceptical European, but the message of the book turns out to have important implications for the contemporary approach to learning as practised in Lindsey’s school.
The message is a simple one: Dweck argues that there are two types of learner:
The first has a fixed mindset, believing that success in learning is determined by one’s innate intelligence which cannot be changed. The danger for even successful learners with this belief is that they rely on intelligence rather than effort to make progress. What is more, they see failure as a setback showing that their intelligence is not up to the task and give up.
The second type of learner has a growth mindset, believing that their intelligence (and other qualities and talents) is capable of development through effort. Such learners see failure in a given task as a challenge to be worked at and overcome.
Dweck’s analysis clearly underpins the booklet which the school gives to teachers new to the school: “We do not want you to fear retribution for failure. We want you to learn from failure – or experience as you may wish to call it! In return we expect you to take the risks necessary to blossom and help us on our way to that holy grail.” (That is, the school – pupils, teachers, parents and local people – as a learning community.)
The book is further evidence that the bad science (not to say cheating) which justifies the institutional adoption of “intelligence” throughout our educational system is academically discredited. However, it takes more than to change a system which so conveniently maintains the social status quo.