Growth Mindset & Art

Growth mindset theory is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck through her research on achievement and success. Researching how both adults and children interacted with the world and solved problems she came to the conclusion that we are not prisoners of immutable characteristics and with the right training we can become the authors of our own cognitive abilities. In other words, the notion of intelligence as something innate and fixed has been supplanted by the idea that intelligence is instead something malleable. Dweck’s work suggests that when people believe that failure is not a barometer of innate characteristics but rather view it as a step to success (a growth mindset), they are far more likely to put in the kinds of effort that will eventually lead to that success. By contrast, those who believe that success or failure is due to innate ability (a fixed mindset) can find that this leads to a fear of failure and a lack of effort. In this sense, it is important to point out that a growth mindset is not really about motivation, but rather about the way in which individuals understand their own intelligence.

However, despite the general enthusiasm, especially when it comes to young children, for the efficacy of a growth mindset (a recent national survey in the United States showed that 98% of teachers feel that growth mindset approaches should be adopted in schools), strong voices such as Carl Hendrick the co-author of What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice (2017) state that it’s increasingly unclear whether attempts to change students’ mindsets about their abilities have any positive effect on their learning at all. This is a cautionary tale about the difficulties of translating psychological theories into the reality of the classroom. Indeed, only 50% of the teachers polled in the same survey said that they knew strategies to effectively change a student's mindset.

ENCOURAGING A GROWTH MINDSET THROUGH ART

I may be biased but I am not alone in my belief that art is ideally set up to foster a growth mindset, which in turn will help young students navigate through their life in a spirit of constant learning. But, not all art assignments are created equal, and having "art time" is not enough to foster meaningful engagement resulting in substantial, measurable cognitive growth. On one hand, there are Pinterest "art lesson" samples which, while pleasing to look at, serve solely as follow-the-leader prompts by simply setting children up to define success in whether or not their final pictures look "right" or "wrong" effectively offering little opportunity to experiment, question and grow. On the other hand, mindful art projects embrace process art over finished product thus encouraging students to be creative, curious, willing to experiment and explore, seek questions and develop ideas based on their diverse backgrounds and personalities while building their knowledge of art content. Tempest NeuCollins of Doodle Academy shares her experience of using mindful open ended creative experiences to get all students, not just those already inclined toward art, consider their art projects a safe place to explore their own ideas, tell their own stories, and yes, make and solve their own mistakes. She continues: "Through these process-focused projects, my students began to recognize that there was more than one way to approach the problem, and that every solution, when well executed, offers a unique perspective. As a result, they learned that, instead of mistakes being a failure to replicate an ideal, they are opportunities to expand ideas and use the process as an opportunity to creatively problem solve". In this sense, picture book Here Comes Ingo which invites children to draw, paint, doodle, write ON the page speaks the language of Doodle Academy aiming to get kids excited around an idea through the lens of art and build their knowledge of this content all the while allowing them to filter that idea through their own interests and present their own narrative.

  • Doodle Academy provides a free online art curriculum for teachers to use at a time when art funding continues to fall. Their lesson plans teach children creative problem solving, independent thinking and growth mindset.
  • Here Comes Ingo is a uniquely interactive picture book created by Odeta Xheka, a Brooklyn artist and busy mom in a quest to connect people with art in truly meaningful and enriching ways starting from early childhood. You can find her work at Odeta Xheka Visuals.