I've always been interested in adults who return to learning (formal or informal) who have not had the most positive formative experiences of education. Many of them tell me that they left school with serious doubts about their abilities and a firm belief that they wouldn't amount to very much. When you start to peel back the layers and explore where these deeply held beliefs stem from, the explanations that people offer are very revealing. Some talk about having been told by parents and/or teachers that they weren't very smart. This led to self doubt and as a consequence, setting self imposed limits i.e. lowering the bar. They then default to a self protection survival mode, avoiding challenges or difficult situations at all costs. Some wouldn't even expend the effort to try because they were convinced that they "couldn't do it anyway, so why bother" especially if failure could reinforce the fact that they are useless and not very clever - a self perpetuating cycle. These beliefs then become deeply ingrained from a young age, and for some, result in routine patterns in the way that people live and lead their adult life. The fixed mindset can be a lifelong habit.
Other people have talked to me about making peer comparisons as children or adolescents and trying to work out where they were in an intelligence hierarchy in relation to others. I'm sure that you'll re-call doing that yourself! For many who viewed themselves mid-table, or below, that then contributed to the "why bother" attitude and the unwillingness to raise your head above the parapet in case you got it wrong and to play safe. Many "mid-tablers" seemed to be happy enough with their placing especially if it involved peer acceptance i.e. you had a place in the wider group and your classmates thought you were "ok" and you fitted in.
For some, the factors around their negative formative experiences can be rooted in lack of confidence, wider family or community issues or learning just not featuring as something that was important to them at that particular time in their life.
This is of course a selective snapshot, with the underlying reasons being complex and related to individuals and their unique circumstances. What is really interesting though is that the fixed mindset markers are around us in all shapes and forms from an early age - pre school of course too (and we haven't even mentioned that!)
So why is it that numerous adults who have had experiences, often by the bucketload, like the ones described above - come back to learning with a renewed vigour and a willingness to pick things up again?
This is of course difficult to generalise, but I've come to the following conclusions.
Some adults are externally driven to come back to learning e.g. to gain a qualification or to develop a new skill - but of course that doesn't deal with the hangover of earlier beliefs hiding in their fixed mindset closet!
I suspect that many want to "have another go" and to see how they get on this time round. Perhaps they have a niggling doubt that they are better than they thinkt? They might be in a better place, psychologically or socially to contemplate learning or it might have more immediate relevance to their goals. I do think that for some that there is an emerging sense that developing their intelligence is more within their control than they once thought.
This process is often very subtle I think - a gradual "lightbulb moment" ( starting from the low energy 15 watt variety increasing to the halogen moment when they can see the floodlight on their potential) Bingo. They are now in a position to move forward (albeit they'll need to cultivate habits to help them succeed along the way).
I often think this is a critical point where others (whether educators, friends, colleagues, supervisors etc.) can support people to make that shift to more of a growth mindset orientation and to challenge some of their own previously held beliefs about their abilities.
Similarly, (and this chimes of course with Professor Carol Dweck's views), stressing the importance of dedication, regular practice and hard graft being correlated to success - i.e. it doesn't happen by luck and accident - is a central message for those who are supporting adults back into learning.
Anyway, there are countless adults out there who have gravitated towards more of a growth mindset disposition in the way that they now approach their life. I'd be interested to hear from you.
Comment Posted: 22/05/2011 21:49
|This chimes so well with my own experience. At primary school I never dropped below the top five and was sometimes in the top three. I went to secondary school in the days of selective schooling and found myself in a class of others with similar achievements. My school took pupils from around a dozen primary schools so suddenly I found myself thirtieth out of thirty three! That knocked my confidence for six and teachers who told me I was stupid only compounded that. I wasn't suddenly stupid. I just wasn't doing as well as most of the others in my class. It took my until my late twenties and the Open University to realise that I wasn't dumb, that I could reason, understand and learn. But it took too long. I wish I known of Dweck's work when I was twelve/thirteen.|
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