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The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

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    The Secret to Raising Smart Kids Hint: Don t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort-not on
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2007
      The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

           Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are. More than
           three decades of research shows that a focus on
           effort-not on intelligence or ability-is key to
           success in school and in life

      By Carol S. Dweck
      Scientific American

      A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade
      school. He completed his assignments easily and
      routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of
      his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he
      had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however,
      Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to
      do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his
      grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son's
      confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But
      their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a
      composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork,
      their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

      Our society worships talent, and many people assume that
      possessing superior intelligence or ability-along with
      confidence in that ability-is a recipe for success. In
      fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific
      investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect
      or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful
      of challenges and unwilling to remedy their

      The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who
      coast through the early grades under the dangerous
      notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them
      as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit
      belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making
      striving to learn seem far less important than being (or
      looking) smart. This belief also makes them see
      challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort
      as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to
      improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and
      motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

      Praising children's innate abilities, as Jonathan's
      parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also
      prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and
      even marriages from living up to their potential. On the
      other hand, our studies show that teaching people to
      have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on
      effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make
      them into high achievers in school and in life.

      The Opportunity of Defeat

      I first began to investigate the underpinnings of human
      motivation-and how people persevere after setbacks-as a
      psychology graduate student at Yale University in the
      1960s. Animal experiments by psychologists Martin
      Seligman, Steven Maier and Richard Solomon of the
      University of Pennsylvania had shown that after repeated
      failures, most animals conclude that a situation is
      hopeless and beyond their control. After such an
      experience, the researchers found, an animal often
      remains passive even when it can affect change-a state
      they called learned helplessness.

      People can learn to be helpless, too, but not everyone
      reacts to setbacks this way. I wondered: Why do some
      students give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas
      others who are no more skilled continue to strive and
      learn? One answer, I soon discovered, lay in people's
      beliefs about why they had failed.

      In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of
      ability depresses motivation more than does the belief
      that lack of effort is to blame. In 1972, when I taught
      a group of elementary and middle school children who
      displayed helpless behavior in school that a lack of
      effort (rather than lack of ability) led to their
      mistakes on math problems, the kids learned to keep
      trying when the problems got tough. They also solved
      many of the problems even in the face of difficulty.
      Another group of helpless children who were simply
      rewarded for their success on easy problems did not
      improve their ability to solve hard math problems. These
      experiments were an early indication that a focus on
      effort can help resolve helplessness and engender

      Subsequent studies revealed that the most persistent
      students do not ruminate about their own failure much at
      all but instead think of mistakes as problems to be
      solved. At the University of Illinois in the 1970s I,
      along with my then graduate student Carol Diener, asked
      60 fifth graders to think out loud while they solved
      very difficult pattern-recognition problems. Some
      students reacted defensively to mistakes, denigrating
      their skills with comments such as "I never did have a
      good rememory," and their problem-solving strategies

      Others, meanwhile, focused on fixing errors and honing
      their skills. One advised himself: "I should slow down
      and try to figure this out." Two schoolchildren were
      particularly inspiring. One, in the wake of difficulty,
      pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked
      his lips and said, "I love a challenge!" The other, also
      confronting the hard problems, looked up at the
      experimenter and approvingly declared, "I was hoping
      this would be informative!" Predictably, the students
      with this attitude outperformed their cohorts in these

      Two Views of Intelligence

      Several years later I developed a broader theory of what
      separates the two general classes of learners-helpless
      versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different
      types of students not only explain their failures
      differently, but they also hold different "theories" of
      intelligence. The helpless ones believe that
      intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain
      amount, and that's that. I call this a "fixed mind-set."
      Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they
      attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel
      powerless to change. They avoid challenges because
      challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart
      less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the
      belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

      The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think
      intelligence is malleable and can be developed through
      education and hard work. They want to learn above all
      else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your
      intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because
      slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they
      can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are
      energizing rather than intimidating; they offer
      opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth
      mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater
      academic success and were quite likely to outperform
      their counterparts.

      We validated these expectations in a study published in
      early 2007. Psychologists Lisa Blackwell of Columbia
      University and Kali H. Trzes-niewski of Stanford
      University and I monitored 373 students for two years
      during the transition to junior high school, when the
      work gets more difficult and the grading more stringent,
      to determine how their mind-sets might affect their math
      grades. At the beginning of seventh grade, we assessed
      the students' mind-sets by asking them to agree or
      disagree with statements such as "Your intelligence is
      something very basic about you that you can't really
      change." We then assessed their beliefs about other
      aspects of learning and looked to see what happened to
      their grades.

      As we had predicted, the students with a growth mind-set
      felt that learning was a more important goal in school
      than getting good grades. In addition, they held hard
      work in high regard, believing that the more you labored
      at something, the better you would become at it. They
      understood that even geniuses have to work hard for
      their great accomplishments. Confronted by a setback
      such as a disappointing test grade, students with a
      growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a
      different strategy for mastering the material.

      The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were
      concerned about looking smart with little regard for
      learning. They had negative views of effort, believing
      that having to work hard at something was a sign of low
      ability. They thought that a person with talent or
      intelligence did not need to work hard to do well.
      Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability,
      those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study
      less in the future, try never to take that subject again
      and consider cheating on future tests.

      Such divergent outlooks had a dramatic impact on
      performance. At the start of junior high, the math
      achievement test scores of the students with a growth
      mind-set were comparable to those of students who
      displayed a fixed mind-set. But as the work became more
      difficult, the students with a growth mind-set showed
      greater persistence. As a result, their math grades
      overtook those of the other students by the end of the
      first semester-and the gap between the two groups
      continued to widen during the two years we followed

      Along with Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant, I found a
      similar relation between mind-set and achievement in a
      2003 study of 128 Columbia freshman premed students who
      were enrolled in a challenging general chemistry course.
      Although all the students cared about grades, the ones
      who earned the best grades were those who placed a high
      premium on learning rather than on showing that they
      were smart in chemistry. The focus on learning
      strategies, effort and persistence paid off for these

      Confronting Deficiencies

      A belief in fixed intelligence also makes people less
      willing to admit to errors or to confront and remedy
      their deficiencies in school, at work and in their
      social relationships. In a study published in 1999 of
      168 freshmen entering the University of Hong Kong, where
      all instruction and coursework are in English, three
      Hong Kong colleagues and I found that students with a
      growth mind-set who scored poorly on their English
      proficiency exam were far more inclined to take a
      remedial English course than were low-scoring students
      with a fixed mind-set. The students with a stagnant view
      of intelligence were presumably unwilling to admit to
      their deficit and thus passed up the opportunity to
      correct it.

      A fixed mind-set can similarly hamper communication and
      progress in the workplace by leading managers and
      employees to discourage or ignore constructive criticism
      and advice. Research by psychologists Peter Heslin and
      Don VandeWalle of Southern Methodist University and Gary
      Latham of the University of Toronto shows that managers
      who have a fixed mind-set are less likely to seek or
      welcome feedback from their employees than are managers
      with a growth mind-set. Presumably, managers with a
      growth mind-set see themselves as works-in-progress and
      understand that they need feedback to improve, whereas
      bosses with a fixed mind-set are more likely to see
      criticism as reflecting their underlying level of
      competence. Assuming that other people are not capable
      of changing either, executives with a fixed mind-set are
      also less likely to mentor their underlings. But after
      Heslin, VandeWalle and Latham gave managers a tutorial
      on the value and principles of the growth mind-set,
      supervisors became more willing to coach their employees
      and gave more useful advice.

      Mind-set can affect the quality and longevity of
      personal relationships as well, through people's
      willingness-or unwillingness-to deal with difficulties.
      Those with a fixed mind-set are less likely than those
      with a growth mind-set to broach problems in their
      relationships and to try to solve them, according to a
      2006 study I conducted with psychologist Lara Kammrath
      of Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. After all, if
      you think that human personality traits are more or less
      fixed, relationship repair seems largely futile.
      Individuals who believe people can change and grow,
      however, are more confident that confronting concerns in
      their relationships will lead to resolutions.

      Proper Praise

      How do we transmit a growth mind-set to our children?
      One way is by telling stories about achievements that
      result from hard work. For instance, talking about math
      geniuses who were more or less born that way puts
      students in a fixed mind-set, but descriptions of great
      mathematicians who fell in love with math and developed
      amazing skills engenders a growth mind-set, our studies
      have shown. People also communicate mind-sets through
      praise. Although many, if not most, parents believe that
      they should build up a child by telling him  or her how
      brilliant and talented he or she is, our research
      suggests that this is misguided.

      In studies involving several hundred fifth graders
      published in 1998, for example, Columbia psychologist
      Claudia M. Mueller and I gave children questions from a
      nonverbal IQ test. After the first 10 problems, on which
      most children did fairly well, we praised them. We
      praised some of them for their intelligence: "Wow .
      that's a really good score. You must be smart at this."
      We commended others for their effort: "Wow . that's a
      really good score. You must have worked really hard."

      We found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed
      mind-set more often than did pats on the back for
      effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for
      example, shied away from a challenging assignment-they
      wanted an easy one instead-far more often than the kids
      applauded for their effort. (Most of those lauded for
      their hard work wanted the difficult problem set from
      which they would learn.) When we gave everyone hard
      problems anyway, those praised for being smart became
      discouraged, doubting their ability. And their scores,
      even on an easier problem set we gave them afterward,
      declined as compared with their previous results on
      equivalent problems. In contrast, students praised for
      their effort did not lose confidence when faced with the
      harder questions, and their performance improved
      markedly on the easier problems that followed.

      Making Up Your Mind-set

      In addition to encouraging a growth mind-set through
      praise for effort, parents and teachers can help
      children by providing explicit instruction regarding the
      mind as a learning machine. Blackwell, Trzesniewski and
      I recently designed an eight-session workshop for 91
      students whose math grades were declining in their first
      year of junior high. Forty-eight of the students
      received instruction in study skills only, whereas the
      others attended a combination of study skills sessions
      and classes in which they learned about the growth mind-
      set and how to apply it to schoolwork.

      In the growth mind-set classes, students read and
      discussed an article entitled "You Can Grow Your Brain."
      They were taught that the brain is like a muscle that
      gets stronger with use and that learning prompts neurons
      in the brain to grow new connections. From such
      instruction, many students began to see themselves as
      agents of their own brain development. Students who had
      been disruptive or bored sat still and took note. One
      particularly unruly boy looked up during the discussion
      and said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"

      As the semester progressed, the math grades of the kids
      who learned only study skills continued to decline,
      whereas those of the students given the growth-mind-set
      training stopped falling and began to bounce back to
      their former levels. Despite being unaware that there
      were two types of instruction, teachers reported
      noticing significant motivational changes in 27 percent
      of the children in the growth mind-set workshop as
      compared with only 9 percent of students in the control
      group. One teacher wrote: "Your workshop has already had
      an effect. L [our unruly male student], who never puts
      in any extra effort and often doesn't turn in homework
      on time, actually stayed up late to finish an assignment
      early so I could review it and give him a chance to
      revise it. He earned a B+. (He had been getting Cs and

      Other researchers have replicated our results.
      Psychologists Catherine Good, then at Columbia, and
      Joshua Aronson and Michael Inzlicht of New York
      University reported in 2003 that a growth mind-set
      workshop raised the math and English achievement test
      scores of seventh graders. In a 2002 study Aronson, Good
      (then a graduate student at the University of Texas at
      Austin) and their colleagues found that college students
      began to enjoy their schoolwork more, value it more
      highly and get better grades as a result of training
      that fostered a growth mind-set.

      We have now encapsulated such instruction in an
      interactive computer program called "Brain-ology," which
      should be more widely available by mid-2008. Its six
      modules teach students about the brain-what it does and
      how to make it work better. In a virtual brain lab,
      users can click on brain regions to determine their
      functions or on nerve endings to see how connections
      form when people learn. Users can also advise virtual
      students with problems as a way of practicing how to
      handle schoolwork difficulties; additionally, users keep
      an online journal of their study practices.

      New York City seventh graders who tested a pilot version
      of Brainology told us that the program had changed their
      view of learning and how to promote it. One wrote: "My
      favorite thing from Brainology is the neurons part where
      when u [sic] learn something there are connections and
      they keep growing. I always picture them when I'm in
      school." A teacher said of the students who used the
      program: "They offer to practice, study, take notes, or
      pay attention to ensure that connections will be made."

      Teaching children such information is not just a ploy to
      get them to study. People do differ in intelligence,
      talent and ability. And yet research is converging on
      the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what
      we call genius, is typically the result of years of
      passion and dedication and not something that flows
      naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and
      Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they
      cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort.
      Similarly, hard work and discipline contribute much more
      to school achievement than IQ does.

      Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For
      instance, many young athletes value talent more than
      hard work and have consequently become unteachable.
      Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs
      without constant praise and encouragement to maintain
      their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our
      homes and schools, however, we will give our children
      the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become
      responsible employees and citizens.

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