What are the characteristics that define a “smart” child? Many people believe that being smart entails possessing superior intelligence, natural talent, and an innate ability.
The students who are considered to be smart typically receive straight As without doing their homework or breeze through school with minimal effort. This inverse relationship of “no effort yet high achievement” is often mistaken for the trademark of being smart. If you have to work hard in school, some believe that the reason is due to a lack of natural ability, thus needing to compensate inadequacy with effort.
In Dr. Carol Dweck’s influential article called The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, she points out that academic success hinges on students’ notions of whether intelligence is fixed or malleable. People who solely attribute smartness on intelligence and natural ability typically believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot change no matter how much effort one exerts. This fixed mindset emphasizes intelligence over effort, and often leads to students unable to overcome failure when faced with challenging situations. Students with a fixed mindset on intelligence are more hesitant to take upon a task unless success is guaranteed or, perhaps even more detrimental, become unmotivated to learn altogether once learning poses difficulties. In other words, it promotes the attitude of why bother if we are not innately wired to succeed.
On the other hand, those who believe that intelligence is malleable and can change with hard work possess a “growth mindset” on intelligence and view the brain as a muscle that grows stronger with practice. Dr. Dweck’s research studies demonstrate students with a growth mindset possessing greater persistence and increased resiliency when faced with challenging situations over students with a fixed mindset. Those students focusing on effort outperformed students with a fixed mindset in math achievement scores and became high achievers.
How can we ensure that our students have the proper mindset and possess the view that one’s hard work and effort significantly impact one’s overall academic success above and beyond intelligence and innate ability? Seemingly harmless praise of one’s talents and abilities such as “You are smart” ironically produces students who lose confidence and motivation when the work becomes difficult because they attribute their low performance to a lack of intelligence. Instead, praising students on their efforts by saying “You worked really hard” produces students who try even harder when faced with challenging tasks or disappointing grades. Students’ responses to setbacks and failure are a predictor of academic success and reflect their mindset on learning.
How can we encourage this growth mindset at our Eye Level learning centers? The Eye Level program is designed to be a long-term study and not a quick fix. The Eye Level learning method is synonymous to running a marathon over preparing for a sprint. Staying committed to the program requires daily discipline, hard work, and persistence. Instead of praising the students for how smart they are when passing the Level Tests or Comprehensive/Achievement Tests, praise them for their hard work and efforts put into their weekly studies. Place importance on the time and effort spent on solving a problem over emphasizing their natural ability being the reason for their achievement.
Recognize students based on their length of stay in the program, and reward them for how they have stuck with the program despite the challenges and perhaps even overcoming times when they wanted to drop out. Help us become learning centers that not only teach the skills of math and English, but also instill the proper mindset on learning such that students can become high achievers and successful in school and in life.
Dweck, C.S. (2007). The secret to raising smart kids. Scientific American: Mind. December/January, 36-43.