A Community Effort: Carol Dweck Discusses Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Photo by Gabrielle Peterson '16 | Jessica Bacal, Carol Dweck, and Ally Einbinder at Dweck’s lecture.

Photo by Gabrielle Peterson ’16 | Jessica Bacal, Carol Dweck, and Ally Einbinder at Dweck’s lecture.

Gabrielle Peterson ’16
Contributing Writer

On Thursday, September 19, Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, gave a lecture in Sweeney Auditorium on personal mindset and how that translates into academic success. Dweck’s lecture discussed her research, which she claims has found strong correlations between a student’s mindset and their academic performance.

The two main mindsets she discussed were “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Students with a “fixed mindset” believe their intelligence is fixed and tend to not embrace challenges, whereas those with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence is cultivated and are more likely to be view challenges as a positive opportunity for deeper learning. Dweck’s lecture discussed the different mindsets in various situations and emphasized the importance of encouraging students to have a growth mindset.

Bringing Dweck to Smith was a year-long effort led by Ally Einbinder ’10 and Jessica Bacal, the director of the Wurtele Center for Work and Life. As an alumna, Einbinder was familiar with the pressure to do well at Smith and thought Dweck’s lecture would be beneficial to the community. Einbinder said, “You receive a high when [praise] happens, but crash when you have trouble meeting that same standard again.” Bacal also noted, “Students who come here are high achievers who want to keep achieving. It is important to mention that ability is not fixed and that part of why you’re at college is so you have opportunities to grow. When you struggle, Smith provides resources to help students navigate.”

The Springfield Renaissance School is also incorporating Dweck’s lectures into the curriculum. The Renaissance School’s principal, Stephen Mahoney, brought his students and staff to Thursday’s lecture. Principal Mahoney, who was also the lecturer in the course EDC 200: Education in the City, commented, “Dweck’s work is key in urban schools. Teacher’s language tells our kids what we value – we value habits of hard work.” Mahoney said that some of the teachers teach Dweck in their classes. Keith Wright, a Renaissance School chemistry teacher, talked about how he spent several days discussing Dweck’s research with his students, telling them, “When chemistry starts to get hard, it’s a good thing. I am teaching you by challenging you.”

In addition to a description of mindset and how to identify it in academic environments, audience members were given insight into the prevalence of Dweck’s research beyond educational spaces. During the lecture’s question-and-answer session, Dweck explained the correlations between age, mental health, gender and politics in her research. When asked by a student in the audience why she continues to do her work, she responded, “We’re going deeper, learning more and more, applying mindsets to explore other topics such as peace in the Middle East.” Dweck’s work has merged academic disciplines and her research has been applied to various contexts. The conversation about her work will continue this semester at Smith in workshops, academic courses and future lectures.

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