Ilene Kanoff, South Strafford, VT, firstname.lastname@example.org
Penny Smits, De Pere, WI, email@example.com
Mindset. A simple word, yet the implications and power behind the meaning has transformed the educational world for over a decade. The focus has been on the impact of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, and how that can impact the day-to-day interactions within the classroom.
Children with a growth mindset view their level of intelligence as malleable and can be shaped by hard work. These are the students in the classroom who have a desire to learn, embrace challenges, and persevere in light of failure. On the other hand, children with a fixed mindset see their level of intelligence as fixed at birth, and feel as though they cannot increase their knowledge or skill level. These are the very students who avoid challenges and shut down in light of failure.
Up until now, researchers believed that the child’s mindset was linked to his parents’ mindset. In essence, if parents exhibited a growth mindset, then so would their child. Could there be a different link between parents and children that is a stronger predictor of the mindset that the child will exhibit?
In a research article, What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mindsets? Not Their Parents’ View of Intelligence but Their Parents’ View of Failure (PDF) (2016), Carol Dweck and Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University investigated a connection that is not only literally visible, but is also found to be a predictor of whether a child will exhibit a growth or fixed mindset.
What is this new connection on the education mindset forefront? A parent’s failure mindset, which is more visible to their child, is at the center of the authors recent research study. Dweck and Haimovitz noted, “Parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.”
So, what is “failure mindset” anyway?
Imagine this: an individual is working on a challenging problem, which requires perseverance to figure out. Let’s say the individual “fails” at the task for one reason or another. Does that individual see the failure as one from which s/he can learn, or is it seen as something more negative, something that inhibits future learning?
According to the article, the former is called a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” while the latter is known as “failure-is debilitating mindset.”
How an individual reacts to her own failure is much more visible that how she perseveres and demonstrates growth mindset (happening internally and not really evident.) An individual’s reactions to her own failures carries over to how she reacts to another individual’s failure. This is especially true between parents and children. So, if a parent demonstrates a “failure-is-enhancing mindset,” then her child is more likely to follow suit, and vice versa.
The table below highlights the differences between a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” versus a “failure-is-debilitating mindset.”
Perhaps the most significant results that emerged from the studies conducted in the article were that:
It may not be sufficient to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will naturally transmit it to their children. Instead, an intervention targeting parents’ failure mindsets could teach parents how failure can be beneficial, and how to react to their children’s setback so as to maintain their children’s motivation and learning. This type of intervention not only could lead children to adopt a growth mindset but also could directly teach them perseverance, or ‘grit,’ if failures become interesting, informative, and motivating rather than discouraging.
As educators, this very study on failure and mistakes is something we need to consider and embed within the culture of our classrooms. How can we promote a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” within our classroom and among our students? Also, equally as important, is how can we help parents develop a “failure-is-enhancing mindset?”
This study offers us new opportunities to work with our students (and their parents) to help them understand that making mistakes and learning from them is what learning is all about.