Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Carol Dweck and motivation theory

Carol Dweck

Here’s another reflection about a thinker whose work influences teaching, learning and assessment in adult education. This time it’s Carol Dweck’s work on the theory of motivation.She has researched the effects of students’ beliefs about their own intelligence and how their views can affect their progress. She describes students who think that their intelligence is static as having an ‘entity’ view or a fixed mindset. She suggests that others, who believe that they can increase their intelligence through effort, have an ‘incremental’ view or a growth mindset.

In practice, her research suggests that teachers motivate students more effectively when they give feedback on the processes of learning and don’t link their assessment to the person’s assumed ability.

“That was a good way of working”, is more effective than, “You’re very clever.” A good teacher makes the link between effort and success instead of reinforcing the view that there’s a limit to what any student can achieve.

We learn by experiment and experience. We learn from what doesn’t work as well as from what does – so long as we’re not discouraged or told that we’re stupid. Allowing a student to think that they’re simply not bright enough to be successful is a self-fulfilling prophesy. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Teachers who are aware of Dweck’s research can motivate students by showing that:

  • our brains continue to develop and to grow connections – especially if they’re stretched and exercised;
  • we can improve results by putting in extra effort and trying different approaches.

Promoting a growth mindset gives students much more of a message of hope and possibility than confirming perceptions of fixed intelligence. I know from personal experience of being kept alive on artificial life support for a while in 2009 that brain function is far from fixed. It can be lost and it can be gained. Many of the gains come from other people’s expectations and encouragement.

The 2-minute video from the excellent Teachers’ Toolbox website  http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/Dweck_Motivation.html explains Dweck’s motivation theory. This site has other useful video links for teachers.

Carol Dweck’s own website at: http://www.mindsetonline.com/ shows how motivation theory is relevant to many aspects of life.

Do you agree with her theory or not? What other factors might affect motivation and achievement? Thoughts and comments welcomed.

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About Ann Walker
Director for Education, Workers' Educational Association - UK's largest voluntary sector adult education charity.

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