Inspired by a high school giving the grade ‘not yet’, Carol Dweck has spent her career studying what happens when you give students the gift of ‘not yet’, so they understand they’re on a learning curve, with a clear path to the future and a belief they can improve.
In her early career, Dweck wanted to see how children coped with challenge, so she gave 10 year olds problems slightly too hard for them. Their responses were fascinatingly varied — from the students who approached difficulty with a can-do attitude and an understanding that their abilities could be developed (ie, a growth mindset) to children who feared failure/judgement and were gripped in the ‘tyranny of now rather than the possibility of not yet’ (ie, with a fixed mindset). After the test, some of these children even said they might cheat rather than fail, while others looked for someone who did worse to compare their own scores with.
In study after study, says Carol Dweck, these students have run from failure. Fixed mindset students’ brains show little activity during challenging tasks — evidence of a failure to engage with difficulty or mistake — while the brains of those with a growth mindset approach engage deeply with ‘yet’ — they process the error, learn and correct.
Dweck asks ‘How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now, instead of yet? Training them to be obsessed with A grades rather than dreaming big dreams? And are they carrying this need for constant validation with them into their future lives?’ It seems this is true — employers say young workers can’t get through the day without an award, according to Dweck.
So, how can we build that bridge to yet? We can praise wisely. It’s important to praise the process / focus / effort / perserverence / improvement rather than intelligence / talent if we hope to build hardy, resilient kids.
One example Dweck gives is a new online maths game which recognises and rewards the ‘yet’; valuing effort, strategy and progress rather than the right answers right now. The result? More effort, strategies, engagement and perseverance from all young people.
Just using the words ‘not yet’ can give kids confidence and therefore persistence.
We can change students mindsets. In one study, students were rewarded for pushing beyond comfort zones, which lead to actual changes in the brain. Teaching a growth mindset approach shows improved grades, with thousands and thousands of students, and especially struggling students.
In the US some groups of students chronically under perform, leading to low expectations. But when educators create growth mindset classrooms, steeped in ‘not yet’, equality happens.
In one year a kindergarten class in Harlem NY, many of whom couldn’t hold a pencil when they arrived, scored in the 95% on the national achievement test.
In one year, 4th grade students, starting way behind others, became the number one 4th grade class in the state of New York.
In a year to a year and a half, Native Americans in a reservation school went from bottom to top of district (which included affluent Seattle areas —the Microsoft kids).
This happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Instead of feeling like giving up, the focus on rewarding effort lead to better neuron networks in students’ brains and significantly improved performance.
Finally, Professor Dweck urges us all to support our young people to developing a growth mindset:
“Let’s not waste any more lives. Because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for all children to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.”