WHAT should students learn for the 21st Century?

Luminaries answer CCR’s seminal question


Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University

Growth Mindset

If the beginning of our century is any indication, one thing we can count on is rapid change. This means change in the way we conduct our work and our lives and therefore change in the skills people need to master. And this means that much of the knowledge we impart in school may become obsolete as students enter and exist in the workforce.

In light of such unprecedented and unforeseeable change, it is critical that new curricula impart not only academic skills and knowledge, but also a thirst for challenges and the tools for sustained pursuit of new learning. This comes from a growth mindset.

In my research, we find that some students hold a fixed mindset. They believe intelligence is a fixed trait: you have a certain amount and that’s that. Because of this belief, their number one goal is to look smart and, at all costs, not look dumb. This means turning away from challenges and abandoning difficult tasks that entail mistakes. Other students, however, hold a growth mindset, believing that their intellectual skills can be developed over time. Taking on challenges and persisting in the face of difficulty, they believe, is the way to do this. Behavioral and neuroscience research shows that, unlike those with a fixed mindset, they eagerly orient toward things they don’t know and rapidly process and seek to learn from their mistakes.

Research also shows that teaching students a growth mindset creates these desirable qualities. How might 21st century curricula take advantage of these findings?

We can teach students about the great malleability of their brains—its ability to grow, change and even reorganize through learning. Students are startled and delighted by the idea that when they step out of their comfort zone to learn something new their brains form new connections and over time they can grow their abilities. This makes their struggles a time of brain growth and not a sign of low ability.

What’s more, learning in order to grow your brain creates so much more intrinsic and sustained motivation than learning for the big test.

We can design materials and classrooms to give growth­-mindset feedback. Our research has shown that praising students’ intelligence or abilities puts them into a fixed mindset and turns them off to challenges. But praising the process they engage in—their challenge­-seeking, strategies, effort, focus—creates a growth mindset. Through such feedback, a curriculum can create a new value system for students, one in which the learning process is more important than looking “smart” in the moment.

There are so many other possibilities. New units can be introduced with growth-­mindset framing; towering figures in an area can be described in terms of the development of their abilities and not their natural born genius; grades can include students’ growth-­mindset habits.

Before the 21st century, great achievers were the ones who took on the challenges and stuck to them, who constantly pushed out of their comfort zone to improve their abilities. Now every student who hopes to succeed and remain successful must do this

Copyright – Carol Dweck