Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Growing the Grey Matter (Being Mindful About Mindset)

Week 5 LDC: Developing a Growth Mindset (Leading change)

The Week 5 session at MindLab was about mindset and Carol Dweck’s work.  If you haven’t heard about or read about her theory, it goes like this:

Someone with a fixed mindset doesn’t see that they can improve their intelligence.  “I’m bad at maths because my mother was bad at maths; I’ve always been bad at maths,” is a common expression of this state of being.  You were born this way and that’s that.  Give up now.

Someone with a growth mindset believes that you can change and improve. The brain is flexible and able to grow new connections.  “I’m not so good at maths but I can work at it and improve.” Environment is more important than genes.

In the former, a FAIL is an indication of lack of aptitude.  It’s a reason to stop and give up. It’s about acceptance of the status quo.  In the latter it is punctuated: F.A.I.L. means “first attempt in learning”. It’s about perseverance.

This is demonstrated with a video on experiences with a backwards bike: a bike that operates against how we expect it to work.  Sure enough, after a period of practice, the narrator gets the hang of it.

So, I hear you say, I just need to tell myself I can do it? It would seem so, but I believe there are a few more factors that need to be thrown into help us “fail forward”.

High expectations - I always knew I could succeed academically because those I was surrounded with had a high opinion of my ability. Not everyone needs this to succeed, but my parents and grandparents had been to university so I always thought I would.

Early success - No one ever told me I was below, or well below a standard.  I got lovely written feedback from my first teachers. I can’t remember being given a level or a grade until high school.

A love of competition and challenge - However, I did like being in the top group so did the work when it came to learning multiplication facts or spelling words for those daily tests.

A love of learning - We didn’t have money, but we had books.  And we had a mother who was totally immersed in helping us to learn.  She did things with us.  She went to parent interviews.  She helped with projects.  I still have the old chest of drawers that was used solely as a vertical file of current events material and resources to help us with homework assignments.

Great relationships - My mum was so supportive.  And I had some great teachers who loved learning themselves and created exciting activities that I remember decades later.

I can relate to feeling a failure and not good enough in at least one regard: ball sports.  I’d lived in Jamaica as a child, and came back to New Zealand in standard 4 (Year 5) when my peers were already accomplished at the school sporting codes: netball and softball in those days,  if you were a girl.  Funnily enough, riding a bike was something else I’d never had an opportunity to do, as we had lived on a dirt road and my kitset bike had arrived off the ship without all of the necessary parts.

I was short, plump and not particularly spatially aware.  It could be that my myopia was already apparent.  Or just that I hadn’t had a lot of experience with ball sports.  It wasn’t something that my parents exposed me to.  My teacher used a common method for choosing two teams: nominate the two sportiest kids as captains and get them to take turns at choosing people.

You guessed it: I was always one of the last.  I’ve always felt at a disadvantage in sports and it’s not something I put my all into.  No surprises there.

I did learn to ride a bike, probably because it was more of a solo thing, I could do it at my pace and again, I had a parent to encourage me - and a need - a need to get to school.

A couple of years ago someone shared an amazing video with me.  I’ve spent three days looking for it for this blog post. Maybe this will jog someone’s memory.  It was posted in reaction to National Standards and was the trailer to a documentary about a Nepalese (?) community.

The premise of the movie was this: a society has the power to enable its children to feel like successes or failures through the things it values.  In this particular society, noone had failed an exam, or received a “below the standard.” It made me think.

Mindset is about more than an individual’s beliefs about his or her own learning ability.  It’s about what a culture or a society demonstrates that it values. That’s the mindset that is the most crucial.

See for an overview from +Philippa Nicoll Antipas