Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dweck's Book on Mindset

Carol Dweck is a psychologist who has done extensive research on how mindset influences our risk-taking, learning, and success in life.  Her research defines two types of mindset: fixed-mindset and growth-mindset.  Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, looks at how these two groups differ in academics, business, sports, and relationships.  She also looks at how parents, teachers, and coaches influence mindset.

The fixed-mindset individuals believe that one is endowed with certain abilities that cannot be changed.  Activities then become "tests" of their intelligence and ability.  Challenges are often avoided because one may be "shown up."  Hard work is only needed for those who are not talented.  Failure is devastating; fixed-mindset people may blame others or make excuses for failure because to do otherwise would mean a reflection on one's abilities.

The growth-mindset person, on the other hand, believes that one can improve on one's ability.  Activities become opportunities to learn and develop.  Challenges are often embraced because one has a chance to gain new expertise.  Failure merely means that one has to work harder and learn from one's mistakes. 

Dweck makes interesting observations about the damage that the "you are special" environment has caused millenials.  By focusing on intelligence, natural ability, and talent, parents and teachers have encouraged young people to become fixed-mindset individuals who are less able to cope with constructive criticism, feel that they should get praise for any effort rather than true hard work, and give up when they do not achieve automatic success.

The encouraging thing about Dweck's research is that fixed-mindset individuals can become growth-mindest indiviuals.  In fact, Dweck was initially a fixed-mindset person before she began her research and became aware of the benefits of the growth-mindset.  She talks about how to change mindset in the last chapter in the book.

If you think about what we do every day as academic support professionals, we focus on the growth-mindset.  Whether we work with students who are on probation or students who want to improve on test-taking skills, we help students learn strategies that improve their grades.  With probation students, we encourage them to change in positve ways rather than get stuck in a negative mindframe because of poor grades.  We help them to see themselves as valuable people with the ability to work hard for success.  We treat them as more than just test scores that are equivalent to success or failure.

As I have read Dweck's book, certain things about my students' reactions to law school have really clicked for me.  I think I knew those things before in a different context, but now I have a new perspective to understand each student better.  (Amy Jarmon)

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