When we think of intellectual skills we often focus on children who get top scores in weekly spelling tests, are good readers, have mastered their times tables, and perform well in standardised tests. Only this week in our local paper they were heralding a 9 year old who had just taken his GCSE in Maths! In my experience whilst this might make a child stand out when they are younger it is most definitely not a predictor of their later academic success. In fact it can work against them.
Research by Carol Dwek has shown that academic success is best predicted by a Growth mindset, rather than any innate ability. Carol’s work involved giving children puzzles to complete and then providing feedback either in the form of “you did brilliantly, you must be really smart” or “you did brilliantly, you must have worked really hard“. She then gave the children the option to complete another set of puzzles which she told them “would be quite difficult and they were unlikely to complete them but they would learn a lot from doing them“. The ‘smart’ group all passed on the opportunity, whereas almost all of the ‘hard work’ group attempted the harder puzzles. The two groups of children were then given a final set of puzzles to do, which were as easy as the first set. What Carol found was the ‘smart’ group did less well the second time around but the ‘hard work’ group performed better than ever.
Carol explained that the ‘smart’ group felt their ability was Fixed, they either could do the puzzles or not. Rather than be faced with the possibility of making a mistake and losing face by appearing less intelligent they opted out of the harder puzzles and as a consequence they didn’t see the benefit in practice as a means to success. The ‘hard work’ group in contrast had a Growth mindset which understood that success is in fact determined by practice and perseverance. They saw the more challenging puzzles as an opportunity to learn. As a consequence they learnt and improved when they did the easier puzzles again. Carol’s research has shown time and time again that people with a Growth mindset are more successful than those with a Fixed mindset and the good news is we can teach it to our children.
One easy way to encourage a Growth mindset is to focus on praising our children’s efforts, rather than the outcome. If they get ten out of ten in their weekly spelling test praise all the hard work you saw each night when they sat and wrote out their spellings carefully, if they nearly tie up their shoe laces on their own praise all the effort they put in over the previous months, and so on. Make your focus on the component skills of a task, rather than the outcome. So encourage their attention, concentration, and memory skills, rather than the number they get in a test. Here is a really simple game you can play with a pack of cards with children as young as 2 years all the way unto 16! All you need is a pack of cards Card Snap