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Why your mindset matters

By Meg Thacher, Cricket Media on 07.20.18


Word Count 676
Level MAX

Image 1. In this photo from 2017, Herbert Robinson, left, and Israel McDonald, right, team up to solve a problem from an interactive math
lesson at Turner Elementary School in southeast Washington. Often, people with a fixed mindset are too embarrassed to ask for help, but it
is through cooperation that students help each other learn and grow. Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP.

Imagine that O and Aarti are taking a really hard math test in September. O has a fixed mindset,
the belief that your intelligence is "fixed," or permanent. You're either smart or dumb, and if you're
smart, everything is easy for you. Aarti has a growth mindset, the belief that your intelligence can
grow. Not everyone can become a genius or a star athlete, but they can improve the skills they have
and develop new ones.

So which is right? It's Aarti — believe it or not, research shows that you really can get smarter by
working hard, practicing, and challenging yourself.

How The Brain Works

Your brain is made up of 86 billion cells called neurons. They're literally wired together by axons
in a network that transmits electrical and chemical signals. A single neuron in your brain can be
connected to 10,000 other neurons! When you think, feel, move, or use your senses, signals travel
through this network.

This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.


Brain researchers have found that when we learn, new connections form between neurons, old
connections grow stronger, and unused connections are destroyed. Learning is like exercise for
your brain, as in the more you work it out, the stronger (and smarter) your network of neurons will
become.

How Mindset Works

Your mindset can affect your performance at school, in sports and the arts, and even how you act
and feel. Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has discovered that
people with a fixed mindset tackle problems in a much different way from those with a growth
mindset.

People with a fixed mindset are very concerned with grades and how smart they look compared to
other people. They tend to give up on difficult problems. When they make mistakes, they think it
means they're not smart. They're afraid of challenges because, if they don't do well, they might
look dumb.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, are concerned with learning, not grades. They
jump right in and work hard on difficult problems. They learn from mistakes by trying different
problem-solving strategies or asking for help. They like challenges because they want to stretch
and improve their abilities.

Babies are the best example of the growth mindset. In


only two years, they learn to walk, talk, and feed
themselves. They don't worry about looking dumb
while they learn, and when they make mistakes, they
just try again. Many successful people have a growth
mindset, too.

Dweck and her team discovered that middle school


students with a growth mindset do better in math,
while those with a fixed mindset do worse. Kids with
both mindsets do fine in elementary school, but
middle school math is much harder. So while the
growth-mindset kids embrace the challenge and work
harder, the fixed-mindset kids may just give up,
making their grades suffer.

But Dweck's team discovered something even more


important than that.

Changing Your Mind(set)

The team taught those middle schoolers about mindset and how the brain works. They talked
about the dangers of labeling people "dumb" or "smart." And they discovered that, with some
work, kids can choose to have a growth mindset and do better in school. Everyone has some of
each type of mindset — they're like voices in your head. The trick is to recognize your fixed
mindset voice and your growth mindset voice.

This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.


When you hear your fixed mindset voice telling you you're dumb, or that you'll look stupid if you
ask for help, or that learning a new skill is hard, talk back to it! You're not dumb — you just haven't
learned how to do it yet. Asking for help isn't stupid — it's smart. And learning a new skill is hard
—but won't it be worth it?

Meg Thacher teaches astronomy, physics, and writing at Smith College in western
Massachusetts. Because she's a grown-up, her brain weighs more than yours but has fewer
neural connections.

This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.


Quiz

1 Which statement BEST represents the relationship between the article's central ideas?

(A) Researchers have found that working hard to learn new things makes brains smarter and stronger, and
people with a growth mindset are more willing to work hard, make mistakes and thus learn new skills;
they also found that students can learn to choose a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

(B) Researchers have found that embracing challenges helps form connections in the brain that can make
you smarter and lead to a healthy mindset called a growth mindset; their research was based on cells in
the brain called neurons that are connected to one another and send signals by axons.

(C) There is one kind of mindset, growth mindset, that has been shown to increase students' skills and
improve grades in contrast to another mindset, called a fixed mindset; further research is needed to
determine how students can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

(D) There are two basic kinds of mindsets that will determine how well a student performs in school: growth
and fixed; students' mindsets are relatively flexible during elementary school, but become fixed on
labels like dumb and smart as students grow older.

2 Read the analysis of how the central idea was introduced.

The central idea was introduced by describing two students facing a challenge and explaining which students' mindset is more
accurate and beneficial to success.

Which of the following BEST explains how the central idea was developed further?

(A) by marveling at the number of connections in one's brain, describing the difference between growth and
fixed mindsets, and suggesting that math is the main subject that requires students to use a growth
mindset for success

(B) by demonstrating how neural connections in the brain work, emphasizing that grades are not as
important as students think they are, and describing specific strategies that students should use to
develop a growth mindset

(C) by describing how new challenges are like exercise to the brain, describing the unique contributions of
Dr. Carol Dweck to the field of psychology, and discussing how babies are the best at using a growth
mindset

(D) by explaining how learning new things affects the brain, contrasting the way people with different
mindsets approach new learning challenges, and discussing how it is possible to change one's mindset

3 How might Dr. Carol Dweck use Image 2 to help students change their mindsets?

(A) by showing them that the first steps to changing their mindset is changing their actions

(B) by showing them that having a growth mindset will help develop their neurons

(C) by showing them how their beliefs about learning affect how successful they are at handling challenges

(D) by showing them that students with both mindsets will encounter difficult problems

This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.


4 Look at Image 2 and read the selection from the section "How Mindset Works."

Kids with both mindsets do fine in elementary school, but middle school math is much harder. So
while the growth-mindset kids embrace the challenge and work harder, the fixed-mindset kids
may just give up, making their grades suffer.

Which conclusion is MOST supported by the selection and the image?

(A) Students who do not learn to have a growth mindset by the end of elementary school never will,
because fixed mindsets are determined at a young age and lead to giving up.

(B) Students who use a growth mindset will gain skills and confidence in their abilities to handle hard things,
making them more likely to be successful learners as adults, too.

(C) Students who have a fixed mindset in middle and high school never get good grades because they
always think they are dumb and/or they do not care about school.

(D) Students with a fixed mindset who found middle school math to be easy and believe they are smart do
not have much to learn from the research on growth mindsets.

This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.