Dweck’s Theory of Motivation
Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. She is a leader in the field of student motivation and her research is widely recognised. Over many decades she has developed a highly influential theory of student motivation building on the work of others notably on ‘attribution theory’ – what we attribute for our failures and successes.
She divides students into two types, based on the student’s own theory about their own ability.
Fixed IQ theorists: These students believe that their ability is fixed, probably at birth, and there is very little if anything they can do to improve it. They believe ability comes from talent rather than from the slow development of skills through learning. “Its all in the genes”. Either you can do it with little effort, or you will never be able to do it, so you might as well give up in the face of difficulty. E.g. “ I can’t do maths”
Untapped Potential theorists: These students believe that ability and success are due to learning, and learning requires time and effort. In the case of difficulty one must try harder, try another approach, or seek help etc.
About 15% of students are in the middle, the rest are equally divided between the two theories. Surprisingly there is no correlation between success at school and the theory the student holds. Differences in performance only show when the student is challenged or is facing difficulty, for example when a student moves from school to college. Then research has shown that the ‘Untapped Potential Theorists’ do very much better, as one might expect.
It is possible to move students from the Fixed IQ theory to the Untapped Potential theory. However, the research which shows that this can be done, is not at all detailed about how exactly! It’s a matter of persuasion of course. Any ideas? Are you prepared to join the team working on this? If so please contact Geoff Petty room 142.
Many teachers, myself included, thought that “it’s obvious” that learning is worth the effort and can produce improvement. But almost half of our students at every level, do not share this view. The challenge to change their view will be well rewarded.
Why bother with Dweck? A recent review of research by Hattie Biggs and Purdie into the effectiveness of Study Skills programmes found that the programmes that had the greatest effect focussed on the ‘attribution’ by students of what affected their learning – this is precisely Dweck’s focus. Whether students attribute their success to something they can change or to something they can’t is immensely influential, and this attribution can be changed. The effect sizes found by Hattie et all showed that work on attribution can improve a student’s performance by between two and three grades! Dweck’s Questionnaire
The following questionnaire can be used to find out whether students as ‘fixed IQ theorists’ or ‘Untapped Potential theorists’. Professor Carol Dweck Columbia US devised it and its been fully validated etc. However, you could devise your own, though it might not work so well.
Read each sentence below and then circle the one number that shows how much you agree with it. There are no right or wrong answers.
You have a certain
amount of intelligence,
and you really can’t
do much to change it
is something about you
that you can’t change
You can learn new
things, but you can’t
really change your
Consequences of Dweck’s Theory of Motivation for teachers
Avoid giving ‘person orientated praise’:
e.g. ‘I’m proud of you’; ‘you’re good at this’. Because it: •
assumes that success is due to personal attributes
teaches students to interpret difficulties in terms of their personal weaknesses.
Instead, give ‘process orientated praise’,
This is focussed on the process...
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