Journey to Excellence

Positive mindsets - David Perkins

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Listen as David Perkins explores the impact of limited mindsets on educational achievement and contrasts this with fostering growth mindsets that can increase personal capability.


It’s really interesting to ask how this mindset of our thinking and learning gets sustained - either a positive or a negative mindset - either a ‘can-do’ mindset or a 'Well, I am just this smart and that is it' mindset. It’s not just your individual self-image, it’s also the culture around you - what the culture expects and what the culture rewards. For example, as a trend many Asian cultures are more persistence oriented. If something is hard their answer is not 'Your head isn’t big enough to take it in', it's 'You’ve got to hang in there and persist'. That differs culturally. For another thing, small interactions in the micro culture around you either reinforce a positive mindset or a negative mindset about your own mental capabilities. So, for example, imagine a child having trouble with a maths problem what does the parent say about it? The parent might say 'No you just don’t have a head for maths' - that reinforces the mindset of limited capability. Or maybe the parent says 'Can you think of another way to approach it?' - that reinforces a capability mindset, a ‘can-do’ mindset.

Same thing in teacher interactions with the students. Think of the general level of risk in a learning situation in school or out of school - if failure is very risky; if you are going to get punished; if you are going to get a really bad grade - this kind of thing. This reinforces a limited capacity mindset because it means you are not ready to experiment with how far you can go and how much you can make of this - you are more likely to take a safe path and in fact to mask any difficulties you have, for instance, by trying straight memorisation to at least do okay on that test. A lot of things in the culture not just one’s personal image influence the conception that develops about personal capability - and in a way that is too bad because it is a barrier. But in a way it is good because it tells us something very important and puts us in a position to create micro cultures around ourselves and around young learners. That basically put them on a path of continuously increasing capability.

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