Do you wonder why parents of primary school children are eager to brag about their children’s academic performances (“My son got A’s in Math, Language Arts, and Science”) while parents of middle and high school kids prefer to be silent about their children’s performances at school? Why does the eagerness with which parents share their children’s successes at school dwindle as they get older and move into middle and high school? A variety of answers are possible, but the major cause for this has to do with how intelligence, learning, and motivation are viewed.
We start off life full of curiosity. We wonder why, ask a variety of questions, and engage in purposeful investigation of the world around us to know more about everything. Somehow as children, we believed that there was no limit to how much we could learn and absorb. However, as we got older, adults introduce us to the concept of smart vs. stupid. Suddenly, we are required to conform to the popular belief that people can be categorized as intelligent, average, and dumb, and that they remain the same throughout life. Sadly, this paradigm influences how schools and the systems therein operate, even today.
Once labeled, people tend to think, feel, and behave in accordance to the expectations imposed on them (self-fulfilling prophecy in action). Hence, by the time children get into middle and high school, they are convinced that their intelligence is set – and it is impossible to change. This is why many children who possess excellent academic record during primary school fail to achieve the same type of excellence by the time they get into middle and high school. Their mindset (belief about intelligent) become their greatest enemy and they find themselves trapped in unhealthy thoughts about themselves and how their brains work.
Fixed vs. growth mindset
Psychology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues have conducted extensive research in understanding how mindset (belief about intelligence and how the brain really works) affects motivation, academic performance, and a host of other factors that contribute toward excellence in school and life.
In one of their experiments, Dr. Dweck and her associates designed an eight-week intervention program that taught some junior high school students study skills and how they could learn to develop their intelligence – describing the brain as a muscle that became stronger the more it was used. A control group also learned study skills but they were not taught Dr. Dweck’s expandable theory of intelligence. In just two months, the students from the first group, compared to the control group, showed marked improvement in grades and study habits.
According to Dr. Dweck, students who were energized by the idea that they could have an impact on their mind and its growth were highly motivated. These students possess the growth mindset (belief that neurons in the brain continue to make new connections – hence learning makes one smart-er regardless of past academic records). Internal motivation to study harder and better is significantly higher in these students compared to their counterparts (those with fixed mindset who believe that intelligence is set and learning doesn’t help change anything).
It was also found that students with growth mindset had a very straightforward (and correct) idea of effort – “the harder you work, the more ability will grow; even geniuses have had to work hard for their accomplishments.” On the other hand, students with the fixed mindset believe that if you work hard, it meant that you didn’t have ability, and that things would just come naturally to you if you did.
Growth mindset motivates both teachers and students to hold a more optimistic attitude toward learning and intelligence. Schools should eradicate the fixed mindset from its operational philosophies and inspire every student to achieve the best he/she could by sincerely examining and working toward fulfilling his/her true potential. This is possible when our belief about intelligence, learning, and motivation changes!