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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Intelligence vs. Effort

Have you ever had that parent in your class who tells you that their child is smart?  Or the parent who approaches you at the beginning of the year and thinks their child knows everything they need to know in kindergarten so their child should just be your helper or be accelerated?  Or the student who tells you that their parents tell them how smart they are?  Sometimes you might even catch yourself telling your students how smart they are.  "Great job, you are such a smartie pants!"

Well, we all mean well.  We are praising kids for a job well done.  Praise is really important especially in kindergarten.  However, what we need to pay attention to is the kind of praise we are giving to kids.

We never really gave much thought to this until a couple of years ago when we had a student who just didn't seem to put much effort into his work.  It wasn't that he wasn't smart.  The ability was there.  He just didn't want to do any more than was required.  As all the other students started showing growth this child just flatlined.  How was this possible?  What was happening with this child that caused him to be the only one to not show progress?  These questions all lead us to the research of Carol Dweck,  a psychology professor at Stanford University.  And it all suddenly became clear to us.  Our student had what Dweck calls a "fixed" mindset.  He was less interested in learning than the rest of the class and was a bit afraid to make mistakes.  When all the other students just went for it, this child held back.  This child also told us how his parents said he was a nerd.  We were so taken back by this we asked him what a nerd was and he said "it means I am very smart."  Carol Dweck believes that when you tell a child how smart they are you are sending them the message that they can just rely on their intelligence to get them through and they don't have to put forth extra effort because it will just come naturally.    

The challenge was to get this child to have what Dweck calls a "growth" mindset.  You learn through hard work and making mistakes.  Perseverance became one of the most important vocabulary words in our classroom.  Slowly this child did start to make improvements, but we all had to make sure we were all on the same page.  This meant also educating the parents to use deliberate words to express how important effort is and making comments of what you observe instead of judging them.   

Instead of ....

You got a good grade on that.  You are so smart.

I knew you were smart that is why you did it.

You are really a smart girl.


I really like the way you practiced and put so much effort into your work.

Wow, you worked really hard on that.

You found a creative way to solve that, great job.

The lesson here is that the key to any child's success is not to tell them how smart they are but helping them to understand how important it is to put effort into their work. 

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