Last fall for my instruction services class we had to do “self-directed readings,” which was basically a way for the professor to get us each to branch out and find different topics outside of the required readings that interested us. It was a lovely exercise and I ended up using it to read most of a book that the professor had recommended: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Nicole, what is this new age bullshit?” But it’s actually full of pretty interesting ideas that are especially great for those of us who do any kind of teaching or instruction, formal or informal.
Dweck’s main argument is that there are two major mindsets that people invoke when faced with a problem: the fixed mindset, which dictates that intelligence/talent/ability levels are fixed, inherent, and cannot really be changed; and the growth mindset, which dictates that intelligence/talent/ability levels can be changed through effort and application. Through her years as a psychology professor and scholar, Dweck has been able to observe people exhibiting both mindsets and has discovered the following trends: a growth mindset tends to produce better self-assessment, more grounded confidence, a desire to be challenged, and a willingness to try new things; while a fixed mindset produces self-delusion, a constant need to prove oneself, a desire to be perfect, a fear of new areas/experiences, and an increased willingness to cheat.
I found Dweck’s argument to be very thought-provoking and illuminating. As someone who has observed friends and peers frequently exhibit a fixed mindset, I have often desired a way to articulate the difference in attitude and outlook. I think it is important that we, as instructors, adopt a growth mindset in terms of our own development as teachers and learning facilitators. And it is also important that we try to instill a growth mindset in our students/patrons. A growth mindset is what will help drive their curiosity, stave off library anxiety, and encourage their being able to ask for help without fear or shame.
The book even has an entire chapter devoted to the practical implications of the fixed vs. growth mindset theory for parents, teachers, and coaches. Her main argument is that blindly praising someone who is attempting to learn, whether they are actually learning or not, can have negative consequences and effectively push them into a fixed mindset. She argues that instructors should be careful about their word choice when praising achievement; they should focus on the process and effort, rather than just rewarding the outcome. She also emphasizes that instructors should be careful not to overly value speed or perfection, as students will be less likely to value careful consideration and critical thinking, which take time and the consideration of multiple avenues of thought. Lastly, she argues that instructors should not shield or protect students from failure; rather, they should acknowledge that “failures” are a necessary component of learning and should give students the tools and confidence to work past failures.
I found all of these points to be very relevant to library instruction. As librarians, we need to actively combat library anxiety (which leads to library avoidance). To do so, we need to emphasize to students that learning requires many tools and resources which take time and discipline to master. We need to make sure they feel comfortable asking for help and that they are not overcome with a perfectionist fixed mindset that makes asking for help an embarrassing activity. Her argument about not overly valuing speed or perfection is especially relevant, as it could be tempting to incorporate activities that do so (Who can find this resource the fastest?). We must instill a careful, deliberating mode of thinking in students for them to become successful researchers. Also we need to emphasize that “failures” or at least dead-ends are very common in the research process and should not be met with anxiety or fear, but rather seen as an opportunity to learn (in this case, to learn what doesn’t work).
Overall, I found Dweck’s suggestions very helpful for cultivating a positive, growth-mindset learning environment in library instruction. I would consider some of the chapters from this book to be in my “required LIS reading” list. The mindset concept has certainly helped me as a library student who is constantly learning new ideas, concepts, and aspects of librarianship. And this fall, as I (hopefully) take the leap into formal library instruction (more info to come later), I think Dweck’s ideas will continue to be applicable and helpful.