Motivation and mindset anchoring.
When I was at University, a running joke was how little we’d all worked on our papers,
how late and last minute we’d left them, and how little effort we’d put into them.
A couple of things jolted me out of this mindset. International students I knew, from China,
India, Europe, Africa and South America, didn’t seem to share English students’ view
that slack effort was funny and clever. And my Dad told me that what actually happened
at his University was that people boasted publicly about not working,
but then worked feverishly in private. The joke was on us.
Beliefs matter; mindset matters; work ethic matters.
Kids’ ideas about effort stem from their mindset. The research from Carol Dweck is much acclaimed, and rightly so. If you believe in effortless intelligence, it leads to fear of effort and failure.
If you believe in hard work and overcoming setbacks, this leads to success.
Mindsets change the meaning of embarrassing mistakes, tough challenges, hurtful setbacks, negative criticism and long slogs into opportunities. They internalise the questions:
So a vital ingredient in the motivation mix is the belief kids bring to lessons in their minds.
Either they believe hard work leads to success, or they don’t.
If they don’t, they’ll avoid challenge and give up easily when failing. If they believe their intelligence grows with practice, effort and discipline, they’ll seek challenge and persist when failing.
The promise of the growth mindset is that kids no longer see tough, challenging work
as or boring: they …
Perhaps the best way to understand this is through a scenario. What would you do in this scenario?
You’ve coached a student debating team all year through practice debates.
Your team is strong and aim to win the annual competition against other schools.
They’ve even imagined taking the trophy home. In the event, your team starts strong
but is defeated on points. They are devastated. How would you react as their coach?
Tell them you thought they were best
Tell them they were robbed of the trophy
Tell them debating isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things
Tell them they have the ability and will surely win next time
Tell them they didn’t deserve to win
Now, which did you choose?
Dwek argues that choices 1-4 don’t help them improve. Instead, she recommends 5:
This reveals that you choose your mindset; it’s a choice within everyone’s sphere of control.
And that brings me on to choice architecture.
In their book ,
Thaler and Sunstein make the case for us to think about ourselves as choice architects:
One of the most important choices we are responsible for as teachers and school leaders,
is organising the context around the decision every pupil makes on every task in every lesson:
‘do I make the effort on this
One of the greatest design tools a choice architect is understanding cognitive biases.
A comprehensive list of fifty is available in the book, :
One of the greatest cognitive biases in pupils’ minds is status quo bias, or the default effect.
Inertia is sticky: we tend to go with the status quo. Here’s how Thaler and Sunstein explain it:
An excellent example is organ donations. There’s a shortage of organ donors:
only about 40% of people opt for it. But when asked whether people wanted to actively opt-out
of organ donation, the take-up increased to 80%. Opt-outs as default options are powerful.
Because we have such a strong tendency to stick with the way things are,
by changing the default setting, you can change a lot.
Behavioural economists and cognitive psychologists are finding how much anchoring matters. Anchoring guides and constrains our thinking. Once your mind is hooked onto the anchor,
it’s much harder to stray away from it.
Kahnemann in gives this demonstration:
People’s average answer was over 100; in reality, Gandhi died at 79.
The unreasonably high anchor hooked them in to a higher number than was probable.
Combined, the promise of the growth mindset with the effect of anchoring, the default option
and status quo bias could be powerful for increasing pupil motivation in schools.
So how do we anchor the growth mindset on challenge, effort and setbacks as the default option?
Teach the message that all our teachers and pupils a growth mindset,
from the moment kids enter school onwards; that’s ‘
Share mindset of how setbacks, failures and practice led to eventual success
Practise in teacher training on challenges, praise, criticism and setbacks
Teach the science: challenges, practice, effort, self-discipline, mistakes,
setbacks and feedback are the keys to improving intelligence and successful learning
Model the mindset: share anecdotes of persistence, share frustrations and acknowledge mistakes, keep asking ‘
Contrast and correct fixed mindset mentalities and expressions with ways to think more productively about things when they get tough: ‘
How would you know when a school has succeeded in growth mindset?
I’d argue that when it’s become the for every pupil,
the school is on autopilot to achievement.
You’d go in to any classroom at any time and every kid would be on task on every task.
Motivation isn’t just up to school leaders and teachers, though.
Over the next two weeks I’ll consider the crucial roles peer pressure
and parental priming play in anchoring the growth mindset as the default option.
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