In this article and video from Khan Academy‘s founder, Salman Khan, he explains why he will never tell his 5-year-old son he is smart. Khan’s article expounds on the research of Carol Dweck and others on the “growth mindset” – or the habits of mind that believe that intelligence is not predetermined. Rather, with effort, perseverance, and resilience you CAN learn new things. Khan writes,
I am more convinced than ever that mindsets towards learning could matter more than anything else we teach…The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself (for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right) can begin to change a person’s mindset…when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.
The trick to learning absolutely anything…is to think you can.
As articles, tweets, and status updates fly around the internet with all of the secrets, tips, and tricks to making and keeping resolutions and finding success and happiness…I ran across this article:
Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards
It references a study in which two groups of students with comparable levels of math achievement were instructed in the same new math skills. One group was additionally coached to understand their mind as a muscle that becomes stronger with usage, practice, and even struggle. This is called the growth mindset or the expandable theory of intelligence. The control group was only instructed in the new skills (fixed mindset). The results of the study revealed that the students who internalized the belief that intellectual skill can be developed through acquisition and practiced application of knew information and skills had notable improvement in grades and study habits compared to the fixed mindset group. Not only that, but their improvement continued on an upward trajectory over the next two years, diverging from the control group’s even further.
While the research in this article is focused on math instruction and performance, some of the take-aways regarding encouraging a growth mindset are applicable to adults and children alike. As we enter 2014 as educators, parents, and individuals hoping to develop new habits and skills in ourselves and others let’s remember:
- What you believe about your own intelligence and skills (expandable or fixed) will inform what you believe about that of others, and thus how you interact with them. When confronted with struggle/failure, do you approach instruction/parenting with the belief that your students/children are just not sufficiently bright, talented or smart? How might children be better equipped for their future if they are consistently treated as though they are just faced with a challenge they don’t yet have the skills to solve, as teachable learners who need guidance and feedback on how to improve?
- How you talk to (encourage, praise, redirect, etc.) your students/children about successes and failures can impact achievement and growth. Do you emphasize intelligence/skill/talent as a fixed trait? Or effort, perseverance, and resilience? Research shows that praising/encouraging the process (not the person) fosters growth mindset and greater long term resilience and success.
- Fixed mindset individuals see struggle and failure as indicators of intelligence and aptitude. Growth mindset individuals see the same challenges as opportunities for learning, in which effort and mistakes are highly valued.
Whether it is in relation to your profession or your personal resolutions for 2014, consider how your inward thinking and outward language (both towards yourself and to others) can reflect the belief that skills, talents, and intelligence can be cultivated, honed, and learned with perseverance, grit, and determination.