THEORY: Carol Dweck, fixed vs growth mindset and why IQ does not matter.

RSA animate present Carol Dweck’s lecture: How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential.

*** This is an update to an older post. In the coming weeks we will be posting videos about the growth mindset including the free lectures from the Dweck team.


Find out how to go from the bottom of the class to the top.


Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck has been studying mindsets for years. While there are many books and TED lectures on the power of effort and grit there appears to be something behind those attitudes and that is “Mindset”. Dweck explains that people with performance goals believe success (and failure) is based on innate ability (or the lack of it) from birth. Dweck describes this as a fixed theory of intelligence, and argues that this gives rise to a ‘fixed mindset’. Students believe all their abilities, intelligence, talents are all fixed. On the other end of the spectrum those people with learning goals have a growth mindset about intelligence believing it can be developed through learning, persistence and hard work. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it (Morehead 2012).

These mindsets are particularly critical when it comes to failure. If you believe in your innate talent and you win you are therefore a winner but when you lose, by default you are a loser. People with the growth mindset embrace these failures as an opportunity to learn and improve their abilities.

Eduardo Briceño beautifully articulates the work of Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck on the difference between a fixed and growth Mindset.

The Inverse Power of Praise:

When it comes the mindset one of the most important aspect for parents and teachers is the inverse power of praise. According to Dweck, when we give praise to students (which we, as teachers often do, in order to build self-esteem and encourage students) for how clever they are, we might actually be encouraging them to develop a fixed mindset – which might limit their learning potential. On the other hand, if we praise students for the hard work and the process that they’ve engaged in, then that helps to develop a growth potential.

Dweck and Lisa Sorich Blackwell studied low-achieving seventh graders, there were divided into two groups with both getting sessions on study skills but one group learnt about memory while the other learnt about intelligence and how the brain is a muscle (the growth mindset group). As shown in the you tube clip above there was a dramatic change in motivation and test scores. Dweck’s book Mindset: The new psychology of success has multiple examples of improved learning and results from her numerous studies in school children.

It is also not about school children, any skill is possible to learn no matter how old or innate you think the talent must be. Betty Edwards, the author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has shown that given some tuition child like scribbles can turn into skilled artwork by Americans who think drawing is a gift.

Read How not to talk to your kids (the inverse power of praise) from the New York Times.

Famous Examples:

But aren’t there plenty of people who believe in innate ability and in the notion that nothing comes without effort? Logically, the two ideas are compatible.  Dweck explains,  “The fallacy comes when people generalize it to the belief that effort on any task, even very hard ones, implies low ability”

Michael Jordan was famously dropped from many teams because initially he was bad compared to his peers. He embraced his failures. In fact, in one of his favourite ads for Nike, he says: “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed.” You can be sure that each time, he went back and practiced the shot a hundred times.

Marva Collins, the renowned American teacher, embraced a growth mindset. On the first day of class, she approached Freddie, a left-back second grader, who wanted no part of school. “Come on, peach,” she said to him, cupping his face in her hands, “we have work to do. You can’t just sit in a seat and grow smart… I promise, you are going to do, and you are going to produce. I am not going to let you fail.”

How can you change your practice?


Careful planning by school management to embrace a growth mindset approach. Planning teacher training, Dweck knew the classroom workshop was not feasible on a large scale and therefore developed a computer-based training module called Brainobogy.


Create space for new ideas and self reflection

Teacher need space to try out new ideas, no be afraid of failure as we encourage our children to do the same. Teachers need to learn from mistakes as well as children. We also need time to have constructive feedback and to embrace that feedback in our practise.  We need to self reflect on what we learnt from the process, less on whether it was a success or a failure.


Developing a Growth Mindset amongst students, yourself, partners and peers is not going to happen overnight. It takes a community effort and occasionally that fixed mindset voice will tell you “you can’t do this” simply reply “yet”

See Carol Dweck’s TED talk on the power of YET.


One thought on “THEORY: Carol Dweck, fixed vs growth mindset and why IQ does not matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s