Some random thoughts on the limits of growth mindset

It’s been a long time since I posted and a lot has happened.  I took the art course and finished it. Had the summer off and am now woking very part-time back in the Computer Science department – leading tutorials and helping students with programming one to one.

Taking the course was a really interesting experience for my understanding of learning (and teaching to some extent) and I think there are lots of parallels with students learning computing (especially programming).

On the  Learning Confidently tab I said the following:

Everyone will tell you that programming takes practice. Sometimes, though, it is hard to make yourself practice – Instead you avoid difficult situations for fear of failure

Some of us have a harder time than others with this and one theory is that this
is evidence of a belief about yourself that says your ‘intelligence’ is fixed and there is
nothing you can do to influence it.

If you substitute the term ‘drawing ability’ for ‘programming’ and ‘intelligence’ you have some idea of my experience in the art course. I went into it with no experience, no confidence, and (I still believe) not much talent – just a real desire to learn more. I did learn more, I did improve my skills, but I could have done even better had I stretched myself out of my comfort zone – and, in particular DONE more in terms of practice.


However …… the reality is that I don’t have enough drive and/or enough native talent to continue, and in the end I am OK about that. While everyone can improve by practice, let’s face it I will never be a professional basketball player! I may be an adequate artist with more practice, but that is realistically the best I can hope for. On the other hand, as a student, I found maths and computing fairly easy and although I had to work at them too the rewards came easily and that felt good.

<<My illustration of The Thing from Gormenghast>>

So, when is it appropriate to give up on something? Real ‘hard-line’ growth mndset people might say ‘never’., but I doubt that anyone will keep on and on at something without any success at all. I do know that you will never improve unless you persevere for a while.

How do we find the sweet spot between native ability and hard work? I have no answer to this. Personally, I will continue to take art classes because I enjoy them. But you may eventually decide that computing is not for you – and that is OK provided you tried. (And remember that trying involves reflecting on your learning and giving yourself the best exerience for your learning style that you can find.) There are lots of other activities that are rewarding and stimulating. Ultimately you will find them!

<<I suspect that the more I think about this the more I will have to edit it!>>