The short answer to ‘Why is failure important?’ is to paraphrase the twee quotes and sayings that tell us ‘only by failing can we succeed’. Although clichéd – and slightly nauseating – there is truth in these motivational quips.
“Failing”, or rather, answering questions incorrectly in an educational setting, results in more brain activation (Falkenstein, Hoormann, Christ & Hohnsbein, 2000; Moser, Schroder, Heeter, Moran & Lee, 2011), longer lasting memory and better performance on subsequent tests (Kornell, Hays & Bjork, 2009). This is not so surprising when you look at what goes on in our brains when we learn and lay down new memories. What is unfortunate is how little failure is now permitted within schools, homes and society in general. Whether this lack of permission contributes to fixed mindsets, whether a fixed mindset leads to the vilification of failure, or whether there is another cause is not important. Seeing the link between mindset and approach to failure is important, because in this we see the means for fostering growth mindset in all.
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I’ve fallen in love: intensely, deeply in love with Carol Dweck. And I won’t hear a bad word against her. It’s probably not healthy, it’s definitely a bit weird, but it’s how I feel and I won’t apologise: My intellectual love for her runs deep and flows fast.
Dweck pioneered a distinction between what she calls a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Originally conceived as a descriptor for attitudes towards intelligence, this distinction has traction for most cognitive attributes and provides insight and explanation for observable behaviour. A fixed (entity) mindset is characterised by a belief that there is a constant level of some cognitive attribute or trait for every person which cannot be surpassed no matter how much it is worked at. A growth (incremental) mindset is contrasted with this and is characterised as a belief that a given attribute or trait is malleable and can be affected and changed by an individual. So, for instance, someone holding a fixed mindset of intelligence will believe that everyone is born with a certain level of intelligence and no matter how studious and motivated they are, once they reach their intelligence ceiling, they cannot surpass it. This outlook is typified by sentences such as “he’s the clever one” or “I’m no good at x” – the subtext here is “he was born clever” and “I can never be any good at x”. Conversely, someone with a growth mindset might say “I have to work hard to get good results in x”.
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From Imagination 6 months ago to Curiosity now.
After a hefty absence, I want to explore the role of curiosity in our cognitive lives. Defining curiosity is hard enough, let alone understanding it and its scope. But, there are some very interesting findings in neuroscience, in psychology and in educational research regarding the role of curiosity in our brains and minds.
The philosophy student in me lives on and first of all it is important to examine what I mean by curiosity. A quick definition search:
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