Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

The reality is in the middle with growth bands

In the past few years, the idea of growth mindset has gained a lot of traction in education. The general idea behind growth mindset, a concept put forth by psychologist Carol Dweck, is that everyone has the ability to grow their mind. This is counter to the fixed mindset theory that espouses that everyone is born at a certain IQ and just stays there the rest of their lives.

The problem with both of these theories is that they are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. That means you either believe students do have the ability to grow their mindset or you do not. I would argue that like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in between. On one end growth mindset, on the other fixed mindset: the truth lies in between with growth bands.

Growth mindset can run contrary to gifted education. Gifted does not necessarily believe in a fixed mindset, but in many states there is a “once gifted, always gifted,” attitude, meaning if a child were identified cognitively in 2nd grade, that is going to follow her all the way until the day she graduates. That means if the next time she is tested she falls from a 130 to a 100, she still is considered gifted.

To be honest, in my experience in gifted education, a majority of the time I see at most a little movement of cognitive scores from one year to the next, but they are not drastic improvements or falling scores. A child might go from a 128 to a 115, or another might improve from a 124 to a 129, but for the most part, there is a lot of consistency with these scores. There can be explanations as to why a child did not score as well, ranging from they did not get a good night’s sleep or a healthy breakfast, to they just did not take it seriously. I see a lot of false negatives, meaning that children who are gifted do not score high enough, but very rarely do I see false positives, or children who score gifted but are not. It would be very difficult for a child to score well without actually having the ability to do so.

Gifted education operates under the principle that we identify these high ability children and then provide them with programming that will be challenging. Some people claim this model to be elitist. Why should these children receive something different than your typical child? I would argue that just like special education students, gifted students have a unique need that often times a typical classroom is not meeting.

There are a lot of people such as myself who fight to get these special services for our gifted children. My fear is if people buy into the growth mindset model with open arms, they will argue there is no need for specialized gifted education because all students can be gifted. Given the standard definition of gifted as being the top ten percent of students, it is impossible for all kids to be gifted. If one believes all kids can be identified as gifted, this can be dangerous because then gifted students are not going to