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 explains Dweck’s motivation theory. This site has other useful video links for teachers.

Carol Dweck’s own website at: 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.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – More on John Dewey

A guest blog by Alison Iredale, Senior Lecturer at Oldham College

Alison Iredale

I am grateful for Ann’s previous post on John Dewey’s influence on learning (

In this post I want to offer a personal perspective related to his work on democracy and education. Some of this post appears in an article about Routinised Practices, part of my PhD thesis.

While researching Dewey at the start of my doctoral studies about 4 years ago I came across an address by Richard Pring, the soon to be retired Director of the Oxford Department of Educational Studies, to an Escalate conference in Glasgow in 2003. He recalled being blamed by Keith Joseph for the low standards in schools, due to teachers being introduced to the works of John Dewey in his department. Having just been knocked sideways professionally by Dewey’s writing myself after 20 years in vocational training and teaching I felt vindicated by my unease with the growth of standards driven education policy and processes in college based vocational education. I wondered whether the standards that Sir Keith Joseph said were falling were long in dire need of a good push. This went against all my training as a vocational teacher hitherto, where the discourse of standards and criteria dominated my teaching and my CPD.

As a teacher and trainer slurping the alphabet soup of CPVE, YTS, NVQ, GNVQ and BEC in the 80’s and 90’s I failed to question the underlying inequalities of narrowly focused quasi-skills criteria, preferring the certainties of the well constructed and cross referenced NVQ portfolio ‘owned’ by the candidate and ‘signed off’ by the internal verifier. Dewey, a pragmatist just like me, revealed that education was part of the democratic ideal, an imperative, and fundamental to the growth of an individual and society. I thought that I already endeavoured to promote transformative learning by taking risks in my lessons, introducing my students to collaborative working, new technology, and experts from the ‘real world of work’. Yet I was doing this generally within a confident, safe, collaborative, democratic, and supportive environment back then. Now, as a teacher educator I observe my own developing teachers basing their pragmatism and pedagogic decisions upon adequacy, compliance and capability because of the precarious, insecure labour conditions prevalent in the lifelong learning sector.

Central to Dewey’s writing is the notion of a democratic education. Laurence Stott (1995:31) describes his philosophy thus:

“Surely Dewey was right that humankind is implicated in an organic-material world open to intelligent and creative scientific research.

I like the word ‘implicated’ in this quotation, particularly as it suggests that I must take responsibility for my contribution to the inculcation of new teachers in the lifelong learning sector.

Dewey has been both castigated and revered, often in the same breath, by those wishing to influence educational values at a political and philosophical level. A pivotal notion surrounds his argument for growth as an end in itself, rather than growth towards a pre-determined end. Human beings recreate beliefs, ideals, hopes, happiness, misery, and practices and when individuals in a social group eventually pass away, through education the social group continues (Dewey 1916:6). This suggests to me an emphasis on education as an imperative.

Education, defined by Dewey as transmission through communication, not only ensures continuity of existence, but existence itself.  He argued strongly for experience to be favoured over instruction, in that whereas all genuine education derives from experience, not all experience is positive in the sense of being able to take an individual forward educationally. He was particularly interested in the nature of reflection, and the non-linear process of learning. Indeed for Dewey, reflection is about problem solving -the embodiment of learning as a holistic activity, taking into account the accumulated experiences of both parties.

“An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment, whether the latter consists of persons with whom he is talking about some topic or event, the subject talked about being also a part of the situation; or the toys with which he is playing; the book he is reading […..]; or the materials of an experiment he is performing.” (Dewey, 1938:43-44).

I return to Stott’s final words on Dewey’s influence in North America:

‘Dewey’s educational experiment-revolution designed to bring democracy to North America has not been successful: its humanistic promises lie unfulfilled, and classroom group activities can be even more oppressive and less growthful than superior class instruction. Education is at the crossroads’. (1995:32)

I find his conclusion troubling when viewed through the lens of the dominant discourses emanating from this coalition government.


Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of education (1966 edn.), New York: Free Press.

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education, New York: Collier Books. (Collier edition first published 1963)

Iredale, A. (2012) Down the rabbit-hole: Routinised Practices, Dewey and Teacher Training in the Lifelong Learning Sector, Journal of Higher Education, Skills and Work Based Learning, 2:1.

Stott, L (1995) ‘Dewey a Disaster?’ International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 18: 1, 27 — 33

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Richard Henry Tawney

This is a guest blog by Ruth Spellman, the WEA’s General Secretary

Ruthe Spellman, WEA General Secretary

My vote for educational influencers would probably go to RH Tawney for all the reasons why I applied to become General Secretary of the WEA, and why I have had a lifetime’s commitment to improving access to learning.One of my favourite quotes from Tawney;“The purpose of the association is to provide for men and women who want to take their bearings on the world, opportunities of co-operative study, in congenial company, with a leader who knows enough of his business to be not only a leader but a fellow student.”

The quote has huge resonance today as more and more of our language and discourse is dominated by the need to re-examine short term returns, short term profits, short term gratification for the consumer, short term windfalls and bonuses.  Education (as Tawney reminds us) is a longer term investment enabling us to participate in and benefit from the huge technological advances of the 20 century.  To use our inventiveness and creativity and channel our energy into positive outcomes for our society as well as our economy.  Reading the testimony of men and women who have been students, tutors and volunteers for the WEA over 100 years I am forced to agree with Mary Turner (1921 -1989) who was a hugely prolific advocate of the WEA in the North West she said “In terms of interest on investment, the WEA does a lot better that the stock market”

Richard Henry Tawney, former President of the WEA

The Wikipedia entry on Tawney is at and there’s more information at

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Sonia Nieto

Sonia Nieto is an inspiring educational thinker. Much of her writing is relevant to adult education although her experience is as a teacher-educator and classroom teacher in the American public (state) school system.

I really liked this section from page 76 of her book, What Keeps Teachers Going? (Sonia Nieto. New York: Teachers’ College Press, 2003). She describes the characteristics that we value in our WEA tutors.

(If you’re new to this, pedagogy means the art or science of being a teacher.)

Quoted text from Sonia Nieto (with the author’s kind permission)

“Good teachers think deeply and often about the craft of teaching and the process of learning. They are not simply technicians who know how to write good lesson plans and use collaborative groups effectively, although this is also part of what they do. Above all, excellent teachers are engaged every day in intellectual work, the kind of serious undertaking that demands considerable attention and thought. They devote substantial time and energy to their teaching and, over time, they develop extensive expertise and confidence in the work they do. Henry Giroux has defined teachers as intellectuals in this way: “in order to function as intellectuals, teachers must create the ideology and structured conditions necessary for them to write, research , and work with each other in producing curricula and sharing power…. As intellectuals, they will combine reflection and action in the interest of empowering students with the skills and knowledge needed to address injustices and to be critical actors committed to developing a world free of oppression and exploitation.”

All good teachers, whether they consciously carry out research or not, are researchers in the broadest sense of the word. This is because good teachers are also learners, and they recognise that they need to keep learning throughout their careers if they are to improve. They probe their subject matter, constantly searching for material that will excite and motivate their students; they explore pedagogy to create a learning environment that is both rigorous and supportive; they talk with their colleagues about difficult situations. Above all, they value the intellectual work that is at the core of teaching.”

Further thoughts? 

  • How can we tell the difference between a teacher who is an intellectual and one who is a ‘technician’?
  • Does this approach apply to other jobs and roles (especially in the WEA?)
  • Why might the difference matter to students and to society?
  • Has a tutor inspired you with an intellectual approach?

There’s more information about Sonia Nieto at


Thanks for various emails responding to this thread, including one from Phill O’Brien from the WEA’s North West Region who sent this link to teaching and learning resources:

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Dewey

The American philosopher John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was one of the leading educational thinkers of the twentieth century. He’s another educator who had a deep and lasting impact on adult education. It’s difficult to do justice to his wide-ranging ideas in a short blog so this just gives a flavour of some of his work. Other people might want to expand on it or add their perspectives?

John Dewey

Education for democracy and society

Dewey championed the idea that education is for the collective benefit of society as a whole as well as for individual students. He believed that education should enable people to take an active part in a vibrant democracy and that teaching methods and curriculum design should support this, although he thought that learning processes were more relevant than curriculum content.

The influence of experience on learning

Dewey introduced a theory that linked experience with learning, based on ideas that he described as ‘continuity’ and ‘interaction’.

He promoted the idea that we learn something, positive or negative, from every experience in our lives and then store the memories, constantly accumulating more and more learning. He described this as continuity.

Dewey suggested that the specific nature of people’s past experiences and prior learning shapes their responses to any new situations, creating personalised interpretations of any current experiences. He referred to this as interaction.

He deduced that people might experience any current shared situation in very different ways depending on their previous personal experiences and individual learning. Anyone who has ever discussed their opinions about a novel and wondered if other people had read the same book will have experienced this in practice. The range of reactions to situations can become much more exaggerated in groups of adult students who have had varying life (and educational) experiences.

It’s important for educators to understand these theories. We can’t change students’ past experiences but we can try to understand them. We can use our insights to improve the learning environments so that our students’ new experiences are as positive as possible for each of them. We can encourage students to be open to different viewpoints. This has a direct bearing on the way we might think about issues of equality and diversity in our curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment – and in life in general.

There’s more information on Dewey and further links at

Responses to the ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’ idea

There are some very interesting and thoughtful responses my last blog and Andria Birch added a thought-provoking video of a talk by Donald Clark at It’s well worth watching it for an insight into the impact of new media on teaching and learning. Using Benjamin Blooms’ approach, it might be useful to consider how significant Clark’s analysis is for the prospects of more traditional models of teaching and learning?

I linked the last blog with the ‘Adult Educators in Action’ group on the LinkedIn website, where additional recommendations for the Hall of Fame include Myles Horton, Malcolm Knowles, David Boud and others. Here’s the link.

Any thoughts on how Dewey’s approaches might influence teaching, learning and assessment in today’s adult education – or other thoughts or suggestions prompted by the ‘Hall of Fame’ ideas, including the increasing use of technology in learning?


Alison Iredale has written a guest blog following on from this one at

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Benjamin Bloom

It’s very heartening that some non-educational specialists in the WEA are interested in knowing more about the thinking behind the best quality of teaching and learning.

Various thinkers have made lasting contributions to the theories of adult learning that tutors and teachers apply in their day-to-day practice. Some of their ideas are not known very widely outside the world of education but they can help us to develop our own thinking and learning in all sorts of settings.

Who should be in an ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’?

Benjamin Bloom (1913 – 1999) is a strong candidate. He was the American educational psychologist who classified educational objectives in a model known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom believed that education should be more than just the dull transfer of ‘facts’ to unquestioning students. He encouraged active and engaging teaching and learning that promoted higher levels of thinking.

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom developed a clear and logical model showing different levels of learning. Various versions have appeared since 1956 but his basic ideas have stood the test of time with slight revision.

He defined the lowest level of learning as simply the absorption of facts – including learning ‘by heart’ or ‘by rote’ without necessarily understanding the ‘knowledge’ being taken in. The higher levels of learning are increasingly complex with much more active student participation and originality. The most exciting, lively and stimulating learning is at the higher levels.

Simplified version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

The poet Robert Frost described himself as, ‘not a teacher, but an awakener’. Bloom’s Taxonomy gives us a practical checklist to aim for the same claim. We can use it as a prompt for planning, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of our teaching and learning.

The classification can be used beyond formal learning environments. Do we believe everything we read in the papers – or online or even in traditional books? Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a good reminder to think about and to question information. Google and other search engines provide some answers to the questions that we might ask, but should we always accept the answers that we are given or should we be thinking at higher levels?

Who else should be in an Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame? Any suggestions – or volunteers willing to write a short guest blog on someone who influences teaching and learning in adult education?

You can leave a comment on the blog or send me an email at if you’re willing to write a guest blog.