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I have to say that I was very impressed with the assembly at Phoenix’s school recently. The topic was the Growth Mindset and the message was an extremely interesting and positive one.

For too long now, we, perhaps especially schools and parents, have focused on IQ tests as a measurement of potential. High IQs mean that a person has a high level of natural intelligence and is destined for great things; low IQ test scores, in contrast, can immediately close many doors.Carol_Dweck1

The Head of Primary School at Phoenix’s school also interestingly informed his audience that the IQ test was originally designed by Alfred Binet as a method of identifying children who were not benefiting from the public school system in Paris, so that new educational programs could be designed to put them back on track. I found this quite ironic really, because these tests were never designed for the purpose we use them for today. They were never meant to be a measure of fixed intelligence.

The assembly was centred around the research and findings of Professor Carol Dweck, a cognitive psychologist at Stanford University, and especially her theory of the Growth Mindset. I found it such an interesting concept that I found her on Google and watched her TED talk (see link).

The GROWTH MINDSET is a kind of an antidote to the IQ test, he goes on to say. Growth Mindset people believe that intelligence is not fixed – it can be grown. They believe that intelligence levels and skill in whichever field can be developed and improved through hard work and perseverance.  A failure along the way is considered a great learning experience. The motto (if you like) of Growth Mindset people is “Learn at all Costs” – they are not afraid to fail. They understand that even geniuses need to work hard; that is what made them geniuses in the first place.

In contrast, FIXED MINDSET people believe that intelligence is fixed. We are all born with a certain amount of intelligence and this can be measured. Fixed Mindset people like to be given praise because this affirms their belief that they are good at something. They tend to avoid situations in which they may fail, because this confirms that they are not as ‘intelligent’ as they thought. They are also unlikely to persevere with something difficult for the fear of failure. The motto of Fixed Mindset people is ‘Look good at all Costs’

So, if we compare the two, it may look like this:



The interesting thing, and I see this every day in my work as a teacher, is that children’s attitude to learning changes depending on the way they are praised when completing tasks.

One thing Carol Dweck emphasises is HOW TO PRAISE. Now this is very intriguing. As parents, haven’t we all, at some point, been guilty of saying “Good boy! You’re so clever!” But research shows that this type of praise fosters a FIXED MINDSET. Children tend to “play it safe” because they are always wanting the praise to confirm their intelligence.

GROWTH MINDSET praise focuses on the PROCESS, the EFFORT and the STRATEGIES used to solve a problem. So instead of saying ‘You must be so clever!” what we should be saying is: “Well done! You must have worked so hard on that.” Research has shown that this type of praise encourages children to find new ways to solve problems, they enjoy the challenges of harder problems, and they accept that setbacks mean that they are learning.

So, we should be praising the process and the effort rather than saying that a child must be clever for doing a task correctly.

The great news is that we can all GROW our intelligence. Schools use IQ tests in many of their Entrance Tests as a way of measuring fixed intelligence. If we want our children to go to these schools, I guess we have no choice but to prepare them for those tests. But our goal must reach far beyond these tests. I believe that we must foster a learning environment that encourages challenge, applauds learning from setbacks and embraces the idea of ‘NOT YET’. Our children might not be able to do something YET, but they are on the learning curve to success and we must encourage the path they’re on to get there.

As Phoenix said: ‘Even Thomas Edison tried more than 1,000 times to create the lightbulb. Why would we even think we could do something brilliantly first time?”

For your interest, here are some very interesting facts on great innovators in history who have failed – but succeeded. Perhaps fantastic examples of the GROWTH MINDSET at work….? (

Thank you for reading!