Admittedly, I am awful at math. All through school, down to the last official class I took in college, I struggled with the subject. Since leaving the academic setting I have not gone out of my way to improve those skills. I would argue that the reason for this is my lack of ability to understand mathematical concepts. This, in turn, leads to a lack of effort and caring in how I perform math-related tasks. In short: I just don't get it, so why bother?
The Fixed Mindset
What I have just expressed is often referred to as a fixed mindset. People who employ this line of thinking typically believe their abilities to succeed are based on talent and not effort. This leads to the line of thinking explained above: I am not talented/gifted at math. Therefore, no amount of effort will change that.
How does one develop this mindset? Are we wired to believe this as people? Surely not! Otherwise, how on earth would we ever learn to do anything? We would drop our heads and stop every time we failed. We know this is not true since we persevere through learning to walk, talk, read, ride a bike, and so on. So again, how do we develop this way of thinking? The answer lies in an age-old institution that burns this into our minds. But first, we must examine the evolution of growth and fixed mindsets.
The fixed mindset is developed as children receive the message that they cannot change the outcomes they experience in learning.
Dr. Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck introduces the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets. As explained above, the fixed mindset is developed as children receive the message that they cannot change the outcomes they experience in learning. This is very much a fatalistic worldview that sees one's learning ability as predetermined. No amount of effort or caring will fix this. Have you ever found yourself thinking this way?
The Growth Mindset
The growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses on processes of learning. Embracing this model encourages educators and learners to examine how outcomes were achieved and to be open-minded to changing strategies and techniques that were used. In a 2016 interview with The Atlantic, Dr. Dweck stated that applying this train of thought produces thinkers who "believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others." As you can see, the takeaway is in encouraging students to overcome weaknesses by examining effort level and technique.