The growth mindset

I dislike simple ideas that promise great success.

The world is too complex for there to be simple advice that will work for all people in all situations. Except perhaps for “keep breathing.”

And so it is with a recent trend to invoke “the growth mindset” within educational circles. Take for example this recent post from Dylan Wiliams Is the Feedback You’re Giving Students Helping or Hindering?

"Students must understand that they are not born with talent (or lack of it) and that
their personalities do not determine whether or not they are “good at math” or 
“good at writing.” Rather, ability is incremental. The harder you work, the smarter you get. Once students begin to understand this “growth mindset” as Carol Dweck calls it, 
students are much more likely to embrace feedback from their teachers."

So that’s simple then. You will get better if you only you work harder AND if you understand that only hard work works.  It’s all down to blood, sweat and tears and a little gritty determination then.  Or as Carol Dweck has it:

Talent = Hard work + Persistence (A Growth Mindset)

I am a little wary of these sort of simple statements. People do seem better able at somethings than others: playing the piano, dancing, maths, or spelling. It seems to be innate.

And is there not a role for the environment, your cultural background, the wealth or lack of it you have to call on? Are there not a lot of studies that show that one of the biggest determinants of your exam achievements is your socio-economic status? Here is a great take down of Dylan and the Growth Mindset – The Growth Mindset : Telling Penguins to Flap Harder?

I do wonder if this Samuel Smiles “boot lace pulling” methodology to success is a variant of your political viewpoint. The upside, poverty will not grind you down if you work hard. The downside, if you are still poor then it is because you have not worked hard enough. Your choice. Now stop whining about inequality.

Anyways. And then I saw this study Understanding the success of London’s schools. This study has gone into a detailed statistical analysis of the UK’s exam and Ofsted results and finds that after correcting for all kinds of categories, like ethnicity, background, etc:

"More broadly, my interpretation of this leads to a focus on pupil aspiration, ambition and engagement. There is nothing inherently different in the educational performance 
of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, but the children of relatively recent 
immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education, and are, on 
average, consequently likely to be more engaged with their school work. These results 
help to explain the ‘London Effect’; they do not explain it away. My argument is that 
the London effect is a very positive thing, but much of the praise for this should be 
allocated to the pupils and parents of London for creating a successful multi-ethnic 
school system. By the same token, there is less evidence that education policies and 
practices had a large part to play in terms of innovative policies."

Interesting. So the role of effort is demonstrable here. Why? Are there special circumstances at work here? Is the Growth Mindset not so bad after all?

I need to read this 35 page report in detail and see what I think. But I find it a challenge to my above dislike of the Growth Mindset.


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