Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

06.12.13Questions about Dweck

Got a note from a veteran teacher in Virginia about Carol Dweck. I actually get versions of this question pretty often so I figured I’d reply in blog-form.

She wrote:

I wonder what you think of the work of Carol Dweck. Do you think that her Fixed vs Growth Mindset theory and Brainology curriculum designed to help students develop a growth mindset is consistent with Teach Like A Champion Techniques? Do you know of teachers or schools using Brainology?

I’ve been teaching high school math for 8 years, after 17 years of engineering and management work. During my first few years of teaching, some significant frustrations with students who I could not get to do the hard work of learning led me to search for ways to try to resolve that problem. When I found Teach Like a Champion, and put much of it into practice (and was reassured about continuing to use techniques that I was already using) it helped quite a bit. Then I found Dan’s Why Don’t Students Like School, and it helped even more– a more solid understanding of the neuroscience made it easier to implement, and convince my students why they should follow, many of the TLAC techniques. Those two books are the best, most useful of all I’ve read on classroom teaching (and I’ve probably ready more than 100. Those two are the ones that I recommend to anyone who asks, or to new teachers whether they ask or not! I wish I’d had them when I first started teaching…)

And I feel that soon Dweck’s Mindset might increase my “best, most favorite” list to 3.

I still have a stubborn 10-20% of students each year who I’ve not been able to get to do the work of learning. Neither have their other teachers–I always ask colleagues who have them in a different class currently, or previously, or subsequently. Many of these students don’t or just barely graduate. Some do but without having learned to their potential. Dweck’s fixed-mindset explanation seems to fit. I’m trying to plan a pilot study with the Mindset Works Brainology curriculum to see if we can change fixed to growth mindsets, get these students to do the work of learning, and see a corresponding improvement in academic performance.

My response:

I really admire and appreciate Dweck’s work. I find it insightful and incredibly useful and highly aligned to TLAC in terms of specific techniques—Precise Praise, for example, or the new “Culture of Error” part of Check for Understanding, which I think is one of the most powerful things my team has developed since I wrote the book…. And is a key reason I’m rewriting the book—it has to grow, too.  The general idea is that you want people to expose their errors to you, to normalize the idea of getting it wrong and then getting it right, to praise people for taking the risk of getting it wrong, etc.

But I also find Dweck’s work applicable to Practice Perfect and the idea of building a growth mindset in the organization and among its people.  So I’m a fan. And I think it applies at least as much to adults as to students—I am trying it on myself for example, trying to get myself to be more risk tolerant with moderately encouraging results (though some resistance from the subject of the experiment). That said, I don’t know anything about her “Brainology curriculum.  I’d love to hear more about it from those who’ve used it.

Anyway, I’m pretty honored to be on a list that has Carol Dweck and Dan Willingham on it.

I’d also say that with just about any approach it’s the stubborn last 10-20 percent that test the tools… that cause you to wonder… but who then, if at last you win out with persistence and intentionality, ironically teach us the most in the end.  So please, send notes on your success with hardest cases.

Finally, I’m happy to read your parenthetical that TLAC reassured you about “continuing to use techniques that I was already using.”  Just to be clear, I love it when a veteran teacher hears about one of the techniques and says, “Oh, I already do that.”  To me that’s a good sign if smart successful people find it intuitive.  Hopefully studying it a bit more intentionally will give them a few things to refine, but the point is that I don’t think I need to have invented it for it to be valuable!  Everything useful I’ve written I borrowed from a great teacher.

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One Response to “Questions about Dweck”

  1. bob b
    June 13, 2013 at 2:12 am

    Dweck’s work is some of the finest and most inspirational I’ve read in almost any area. I’ll tell you, I don’t care if it’s scientific hogwash — I buy it and try to live it because it makes sense and is logical. And it reminds me of what my best coaches taught in HS and college — are you going to walk off this field better than you were when you walked on it today? There was only one answer. And that’s growth.

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