loren Eric Swanson: "The Secret of Raising Smart Kids"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Secret of Raising Smart Kids"

Read an interesting article on the plane coming back from Atlanta last night on raising kids that was counterintuitive but I think it was very insightful. The article is the culmination of a 30-year study by Carol S. Dweck, published in Scientific American Mind, December 2007. The article begins this way:
"A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost thier son's confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan. Schoolwork, thier son maintained, was boring and pointless.
"Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability--along with confidence in that ability--is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings."

How many times have we seen this scenario played out? People with great abilities and talent that don't ever come close to living up to their potential. The key learnings from the study include the following:
1. Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent--and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed--leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
2. Teaching people to have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
3. Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

The study goes on to say, "As we had predicted, the students with the growth mind-set felt that learning was a more important goal in school than getting good grades. In addition, they held hard work in high regard, believing that the more you labored at something, the better you would become at it. They understood that even geniuses have to wrok hard for their great accomplishments. Confronted by a setback such as a disappointing test grade, students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material.
"The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well."

So how should we encourage kids? Dweck suggests we should tell stories of achievements that result from hard work. "Although many, if not most, parents believe they should build up a child by telling him or her how brilliant and tallented he or she is, our research suggests that this is misguided." In a 1998 study she writes, "After the first 10 problems, on which most children did fairly well, we praised them. We praised some of them for their intelligence: 'Wow...that's a really good score. You must be smart at this.' We commended others for their effort: 'Wow...that's a really good score. You must have worked really hard.'
"We found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed mind-set more often than did pats on the back for effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for example, shied away from a challenging assignment--they wanted an easy one instead--far more often than the kids applauded for their effort. (Most of those lauded for their hard work wanted the difficult problem set from which they would learn. When we gave everyone hard problems anyway, those praised for being smart became discouraged, doubting their ability and their scores, even on an easier problem set we gave them afterward, declined as compared with their previous results on equivalent problems. In contrast, students praised for their effort did not lose confidence when faced with the harder questions, and thier performance imprved markedly on the easier problems that followed."

That's pretty amazing, but something we've all seen. We think positive praise for innate ability or talent ("You're so smart...such a great natural athelete, so pretty / handsome) will breed confidence but instead it is the breeding ground for self-doubt.

If you want to read more, the full article is posted on http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids


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