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 lifeScientific American has an article about developing a 'growth mind-set' in children. Carol Dweck cites studies involving junior high students, Columbia freshman premed students, fifth graders, and other students over the past 30 years.
Students with a growth mind-set hold hard work in high regard and feel that learning is more important than good grades. Setbacks such as poor test grades made these students want to work harder next time.
On the other hand, the fixed mind-set students think that a person with talent or intelligence does not need to work hard to do well. These students attributed poor test grades to their own lack of ability and said they would not bother to try harder, preferring not to take the class again or cheat on future tests.
Milton Chen of The George Lucas Educational Foundation posted an interview with Dweck back in March where she recommended these specific strategies to build a growth mind-set:
- Teach students to think of their brain as a muscle that strengthens with use, and have them visualize the brain forming new connections every time they learn.
- When they teach study skills, convey to students that using these methods will help their brains learn better.
- Discourage use of labels ("smart," "dumb," and so on) that convey intelligence as a fixed entity.
- Praise students' effort, strategies, and progress, not their intelligence. Praising intelligence leads to students to fear challenges and makes them feel stupid and discouraged when they have difficulty.
- Give students challenging work. Teach them that challenging activities are fun and that mistakes help them learn.