Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Growth Mindset Doesn't Promise Pupils the World

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Growth Mindset Doesn't Promise Pupils the World

Article excerpt

It's dangerous to tell students that they 'can achieve anything' - give them the truth

The Psychologists Benjamin Bloom and Anders Ericsson both came to believe that almost anyone could do almost anything. Their research (which, in Ericsson's case, is still ongoing) led them to conclude that under the right circumstances - with a supportive environment, skilled and devoted mentors, and sustained, ability-stretching practice throughout childhood - most people can achieve at the very highest level.

According to this view, our students have the potential to become the next Jane Austen, David Hockney, Marie Curie or John Lennon.

So what's wrong with telling students, "You can do anything!"? For one thing, even if Bloom and Ericsson are correct about human potential, the climb to great achievement is long and arduous, requiring lots of preparation, support and perseverance.

Neither Bloom nor Ericsson would say that achievement happens by simply telling people that they can do it. Unfortunately, many educators, in the name of a growth mindset, seem to believe that it will.

To clarify, a growth mindset is the belief that you can consistently develop your talents and abilities. This stands in contrast to a fixed mindset, which is the belief that your talents and abilities are carved in stone and cannot be further cultivated.

Research has repeatedly shown that a growth mindset fosters greater motivation and achievement in students. However, a growth mindset does not promise that your ability will develop, let alone develop to a high level, regardless of what you do. Nor is there any evidence that saying, "You can do anything," teaches students a growth mindset. Consider the following examples.

Imagine a student confronting a hard maths problem without the skills and knowledge to solve it. "You can do anything," might be quite useless and even frustrating for the student. It conveys that he should be able to do it - so he may feel particularly inept when he can't.

Or imagine the situation with a high schooler who wants to be a physician, but does not have any of the prerequisites. "You can do anything," says the teacher. But without further guidance, this would be a misleading reassurance.

It implies that if she simply continues on the same path that she is currently on, she will arrive at her goal. …

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