Mindset has been key to my educational practice for most of my career. I cultivate a growth mindset in my students with my incentive structures, my feedback, my daily language, my assessment policies… it shapes how I educate. Dr. Dweck’s book Mindset changed me the day I read it. Dr. Duckworth’s Grit elaborated on the growth mindset within a larger picture of perseverance. We even discussed it right here, in an early podcast episode. Into this world is now thrown a “benefit mindset”.
Positioned as an evolution of growth mindset, it confused me. The existing literature seems pretty unambiguous regarding the general framework of the construct. What am I missing? I sent my question out into the social media universe (the tweet), and I got a reply from Robert Ward (@RewardingEdu) that pointed me to his blog post Learning Mindsets and the Whole Child: The Fixed, Growth, and Benefit Mindset. I read it.
What I Think: Nope
The “benefit mindset” is not a mindset. As a theory of intelligence, mindset helps researchers investigate and practitioners implement insights into how students learn. Claims about the impact of mindset can be evaluated. A growth mindset and high grit predicts better student attainment, which is great (citation). Understanding the impact of our classroom choices on mindset can help us boost student persistence (citation). It can even help us reduce the achievement gap so we can better serve the students who need it the most (citation). Educators need to make precise choices about how to refine their practice. That requires keeping a clear distinction between the mindset construct and other components of our education philosophy. Otherwise, our long-term growth can lose focus and fail to yield sustained improvement.
What Should We Do: Most of it
“Benefit mindset” really just has a branding problem. All of Rob’s points about implementation are valuable. Duckworth herself identifies the importance of connecting our developing competency back to the community. Authentic applications of learning are thoroughly supported by the educational literature (in inquiry, in assessment, and in holistic philosophy). Educators should be striving for student growth, but also the development of prosocial behavior, compassion, and gratitude. Yes, yes and yes.
We just need to be careful about misusing the professional vocabulary. Teachers might misunderstand the purpose of these benefit values, and their relative position to the mindset theory of intelligence. There are lots of interlocking parts in an effective classroom, but muddling multiple pieces for the sake of simplicity or marketability makes it hard for each teacher to analyze their own practice accurately.
Let’s just rename it. Benefit philosophy? Benefit building? I don’t know… a marketer I am not.