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					Mindset: The Psychology of Learning and Achievement

Background notes for powerpoint presentation for use with teachers,
tutors, mentors, parents etc

This presentation can be used to teach adults (teachers, tutors, mentors and
managers) about Carol Dweck’s theories of motivation, ability and intelligence.
There are several main messages to teach. The first is that there are two
mindsets which people adopt. These mindsets affect the goals people pursue;
the responses they have to difficulties; and how they do in school, work and life.
The second message is that people can change, and other individuals can aid
this process by the feedback they give and the stories they tell.

Another part of this message is that the brain can change overtime. Teaching
people about the brain’s plasticity can help them to change the mindset they
adopt and thus how they respond to challenges and feedback. You can use this
presentation in one session or break it into sections. The sections are detailed in
the slide titled ‘agenda’ and are explained under the headings which follow. If you
would like any more information about each of the sections you can find out more
on the Centre’s website at:
Email for any other queries.

‘Two Mindsets’

The first section has been created to introduce the audience to the notion of
‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets. It is important at this point to give people a brief
explanation of the two mindsets, e.g. people have one of two beliefs about their
intelligence. There are those who believe it is FIXED, carved in stone and there
are those who believe that it is something changeable, i.e. they adopt a
GROWTH mindset. You can then enhance their understanding by giving
examples of role models who, despite the odds, have achieved great things. Role
models inspire people to look at their own mindset in a positive way and help to
facilitate a change in thinking from fixed to growth. After this you can come back
to the research on mindsets. Several studies have shown that despite entering
high school or university with equal scores people with a growth mindset do
better in their test scores over time when compared to those with a fixed mindset.
This has been shown in maths and other subjects. Longitudinal studies in
America show that the self-esteem of people adopting a growth mindset does not
decline over time; people with a fixed mindset do show a downward trend in self-

Motivational Framework supporting the Two Mindsets

So why is it that people with a growth mindset seem to do better than those who
endorse a fixed mindset? The answer to this question is that people endorsing a
growth mindset create different goals, display a different response when they fail
and have different beliefs about effort and different strategies, compared to
people endorsing a fixed mindset. These components make up the framework
which supports the mindsets. You can talk through each component. Feel free to
move slides around if you think that the order would suit you better.

Research shows that people endorsing a fixed mindset tend to create
‘performance’ goals. Because people with a fixed mindset believe that potential
and ability can be measured, they tend to create goals about proving their ability.
E.g. they believe that an ‘A’ will show people that I am smart as intelligent people
get high marks. People endorsing a growth mindset tend to create learning goals.
This is because they believe that intelligence is malleable and can be improved.
These people set goals which are about mastery, e.g. how well have I learnt this
subject. An ‘A’ for them means that they understand and have learned the
subject. Interestingly, several studies by researchers at Stirling University, in
Scotland, have shown that over the course of university people change their
goals from learning to performance. This means that there is something about
the system which leads people to adopt more of a fixed approach. People
adopting performance goals value looking good while people with learning goals
value learning. It is important to note that both goals are normal and in an ideal
world people would endorse both. However, when a person focuses of
performance goals this undermines learning, success and enjoyment. See the
appendix for a tool for helping people to work towards goals

Carol Dweck and other researchers have shown that people adopting a fixed
mindset tend to respond to failure with a helpless response while people with a
growth mindset tend to respond to failure with a mastery response. If a person
believes that intelligence is fixed (something unchangeable which you have a
certain amount of and there is not much you can do to change that) and if this
person also believes that intelligence can be measured, then failure means that
they are unintelligent. This results in feelings of helplessness because the person
explains the cause of failure as resulting from something deficient in them i.e.
lack of intellect. Studies have shown that the result of this response is a lack of

        thinking ‘what’s the point?’
        over representing past failures and under representing successes
        decreased enjoyment
        decreased motivation

      increased anxiety.

Neuroimaging studies show that people adopting a fixed mindset do not pay
attention to learning information when they fail, while those with a growth mindset
do. Those adopting a growth mindset seem to show an opposite response.
Because people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is malleable and
that people can improve with hard work and effort, they find failure challenging
because this is part of the learning process. For people with a growth mindset
failure is data about how well they are doing. People displaying a mastery
response don’t show declines in self esteem or mood and will persevere in the
face of the challenge.

Beliefs about effort
People endorsing different mindsets will hold different beliefs about effort. Carol
Dweck asked students to fill in the equation.

Intelligence=_______% ability______%effort

People with a growth mindset put 35 in for ability and 65 in for effort. People
endorsing a fixed mindset put the exact opposite in the blank spaces. What this
shows is that these groups of people have different values about effort. As we
have seen people adopting a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is a fixed
entity, like a table or chair. This means that things should come naturally - people
either get it or they don’t. So when a person endorsing a fixed mindset hits
challenge they believe that their ability should help them overcome the setback,
not effort. People with a fixed mindset can coast along on their talents, yet when
they meet harder tasks they tend to crumble in the face of failure. This is
because they do not value effort as much as someone with a growth mindset.

Beliefs about strategies
As we have seen, people with a fixed mindset tend to blame their intellect when
they meet failure. They don’t tend to pay attention to learning information and get
helpless. Carol Dweck has shown that people keep trying to answer hard
questions with the same wrong answer rather than trying new ways to do things.
They give up and give very elementary explanations for why they failed. People
endorsing a growth mindset tend to find new ways to do things and think out side
of the box, because they believe that there are other ways to get to their goal.


After teaching people about the motivational framework you can now talk about
how mindsets, and the motivational framework supporting them, can be changed
through feedback and praise. People are very sensitive to the messages they
receive about themselves and it turns out that the type of praise we give people
can change the mindset they adopt. Carol Dweck found that 85 per cent of
parents thought that praising young people’s ability is a good thing. This finding is

worrying because praising young people for ability fosters a fixed mindset. Young
people and adults who are given feedback which suggest that they succeeded
because of a fixed trait, like intelligence, tend to adopt a fixed mindset. Carol
Dweck’s research has shown that praising for the process someone uses, or the
effort they put in, fosters a growth mindset. It also has an impact on the
motivational framework, with people creating learning goals, displaying mastery
responses, endorsing positive beliefs the effectiveness of effort and they also
adopt helpful strategies

The Brain

Carol Dweck has stressed that we need to teach people about the brain and its
huge potential. Doing this challenges the, false, assumption that the brain
becomes ‘fixed’ at an early age. The evidence from neuroscience challenges this
because it shows that people’s brain make new connections until the day they
die. The brain rewires itself after damage (e.g. people learn to speak again after
a stroke). It gets denser when we use it (e.g. musicians have certain areas of the
brain which get bigger through practice). To get the message over to your
audience it is best to begin with a brief description of the brain giving its weight,
size, etc. There are four lobes: Frontal, Parietal, Occipital and Temporal. These
areas do specific things such as help us hear (temporal) see (occipital) and plan
things (frontal). The brain is made up of billions of cells called neurones.
Neurones send chemical messages to one another through a small gap between
neurones, called the synapse. Each time we learn something the brain makes
new connections. The more we use it the stronger the connections become. The
reason it is important to point out that each area of the brain carries out a specific
function is to help illustrate the point that by using these areas, people can make
them become more connected. This highlights the fact that practicing things not
only makes you better at them, but causes changes in the brain. There are many
studies you can use to illustrate this point. Here are a few: Rats of various ages
were put in two separate cages, 1 had lots of stimulation while the other didn’t.
The rats were given an intelligence test before and after (finding, and
remembering, their way around a maze) and they found that the rats in the rich
environment got more ‘intelligent’ and had 10 per cent heavier brains that the rats
in the boring environment. Another study looked at the brains of taxi drivers in
London, and non taxi drivers. The researchers looked at the area which deals
with three dimensional space, the hippocampus, what they found was that taxi
drivers had bigger areas. A study of musicians found that the area of the brain
that deals with processing sound, was bigger, and the area which represents
fingers were bigger, than in non musicians.

Lasting change and summary

The last two sections are a chance to summarise what has been discussed
throughout the presentation. Lasting change can be made by weaving the
following four points into people’s experiences. You could highlight this to your

audience, for them to think about how they could do this in the context of the
people they will be working with. If your audience are going to be teaching this to
younger people we have another presentation in the Mindset Tools, Tips and
Techniques section of the Centre’s website.

      1. Research shows that teaching young people and adults about the
         brain and its huge potential helps to change people’s beliefs from a
         fixed to a growth mindset.

      2. As mentioned, in the section on praise praising for strategies and
         processes rather than intelligence or ability helps to foster a growth

      3. Positive stories, using role models, are a great way to create change
         and motivate people.

A good strategy (taken from social psychology) which creates lasting changes in
attitudes is to convince others of your point of view, by way of persuasion. One
study got university students to write to underachieving young people about how
they ‘made it’ convincing them of a growth mindset. The researchers taught
these university students to incorporate their own experiences of learning goals,
mastery responses and so on, into a letter. They taught them about the brain and
asked them to write about this in their letters to these young people. The act of
convincing others of your point is known as ‘writing is believing’. People asked to
argue a case are more likely to believe the message. This has been shown to
cause lasting change in beliefs. The study mentioned, saw an increase in the
students’ scores and motivation at university, after participating in this study.
Arguing for and convincing others of a growth mindset, ended up convincing the
students of a growth mindset.

Remember: it may be a good idea to start and end your presentation on a
positive note. This will help to engage your audience.

The Centre would like to thank the Scottish Government for their support in
helping to produce this resource.


Here are a set of questions which will help people to work on their learning goals.

What do you wish to learn? What Is your learning

Is it: short term_____ long term_____ challenging_____ big_____ small_____

What are the steps necessary to achieve the goal (e.g. the goal may be very big,
so you might want to break it down into smaller goals? Or it may not be
challenging enough for you?)

What might stand in the way of you reaching your goal? And what might you do
to overcome this?

How will you commit to this goal (e.g. telling someone else what you plan to do,
and when you plan to do it by? Write your goal down, and why you want to do it.
Visualise achieving it, and so on)

What actions will you take to achieve your goal? (You may want to detail each
step you will take on another sheet of paper. This will be your action plan)

Who, and or what else, do you need to be successful? (There may be some
steps which require guidance or assistance from others; this should become
clear in your action plan)

The Centre would like to thank the Scottish Government for their support in
helping to produce this resource.


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