As I was completing activity 2.7 in Lesson 7: Growth vs. fixed mindset, I started thinking deeply about the role that schools play in promoting growth and fixed mindsets among students.
Before I came to university and started a teaching degree, I think I had a pretty fixed mindset. I was of the impression that learning and academic achievement just came naturally for some lucky people, and that I was lucky enough to be a natural.
While my studies have challenged these notions and I know that everyone can learn (anything they want) and that a growth mindset is most conducive to learning, I admit that even today, the legacy of messages over a life time that have reinforce fixed notions of ability or intelligence still affect me. I experience from performance anxiety and I'm terrified of failure because at some level in my brain, I still worry that if I'm seen as a failure, I will no longer be lucky, smart or successful. I have internalised the notion that if I fail, I won't be 'gifted'.
When I think back to my own schooling experience, I can remember being placed in a 'gifted and talented' (GATs) program. I felt special, like there was something about me that made me different from everyone else. It was something that I was born with. It was natural.
Reflecting back on this, I can see how the language of 'gifted and talented' in schools supports this interpretation. Gifts and talents are not necessarily learned or earned. Rather, they are more likely to be seen as innate, natural or bestowed upon a person. No wonder I felt 'special' in the GATs program. The program stamped me as a born achiever. Equipped with an unrealistic expectation of success and a fundamental misunderstanding of the process of learning, I developed what could be called a 'fixed mindset'. To this day, in spite of all my studies, this mindset and the fears it generates still haunt me.
While differentiation for students at all levels of achievement is considered best practice, I do not believe that labeling some students as 'gifted' or 'talented' is in students' best interests. It sends strong messages to targeted GATs students, as well as those who get left out, that can negatively affect the learning and well-being of both parties. I think that if teachers and schools want to help students promote a 'growth mindset', then the language that is used to talk about learning, achievement and 'ability' in schools needs careful consideration.