John Hattie (the man behind Visual Learning) writes in EdWeek about incorrect interpretations of both his work and Carol Dweck’s work with Mindset:
Growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck from a lifetime of careful and precise research work.
This is true for all educational theories. The researcher spends years developing a nuanced framework. But all that nuance gets tossed out the window once the idea starts spreading through word of mouth.
A Game of Educational Telephone
How many folks have promoted a concept like Dweck’s Mindset without having actually read her work! This leads to the following repeating pattern:
- Someone hears about a new idea third-hand.
- They tell others, using their own interpretation.
- Others implement it using their own understanding.
- Perhaps the district decides to “adopt it.” Now everyone is forced to use the idea. But has anyone read the original work?
- The results aren’t as impressive as promised — since the implementation was wrong and expectations were unrealistic.
- The idea is tossed aside as old, invalid, or “bad teaching.”
- A new, new idea surfaces and the game of telephone repeats.
Look to Howard Gardner, who developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences. His idea somehow became interpreted in education as “learning styles.” Gardner never intended for his idea to be used in this way, yet most people see Multiple Intelligences and conflate it with the false idea of “learning styles.”
Gardner himself even wrote an article in 2013 titled ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’! But his idea has gone through the game of telephone so frequently that it has become indistinguishable from “learning styles.” (Hat tip to Lisa for this article).
The problem arises because very few people who speak about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences have ever read his actual work.
This mis-interpretation of educational theory in classrooms is systemic and widespread. We, as educators, must read the original works before implementing ideas with children.
When Is A Fixed Mindset A Good Thing?
Back to Hattie, writing about Dweck. He writes:
There is no general state to aim for called “I have a growth mindset” as we can have both fixed and growth, they have advantages at different times.
Have you ever heard anyone promoting Mindset say that there’s an advantage to fixed mindset? Probably not. But Carol Dweck thinks there is! In an article she wrote in EdWeek trying to clarify her work she even states: “Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset.”
Without reading Dweck’s actual work, her idea gets boiled down to: “Growth good, fixed bad!” Yet, there’s more nuance than that.
Call To Action
So here’s my call to action. Before you promote (or implement) a new education idea, make sure you’ve read the original work. In many cases, it’s easily accessible (seriously, Mindset is no dry, academic textbook). Without reading the original work, we are most likely implementing the idea incorrectly, without the appropriate nuance.
If someone else is hyping a new idea, ask them three things:
- Have you read the original work?
- What are the common misconceptions about the theory?
- What are the theory’s limitations?
Be thoughtful and skeptical. Every idea is limited. No educational theory is perfect. None will work for all students, at all grades, in all subjects at all times.
Let’s be discerning about what we believe. Let’s be professionals!
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