Imagine you are sitting in a grade school classroom. The teacher walks by to observe your work, looks at your neighbor’s paper, and comments, “Great work. You’re so smart!” She then continues on her way down the row. While this may seem like an innocuous comment, it has a major effect on students’ mindsets in the classroom. Why? It communicates the idea that intelligence is fixed. It makes students think that intelligence is something that either you have or you don’t, and if you are not one of the lucky ones who is smart, then you must be dumb. Instead of communicating this message to children, parents and teachers should promote what is known as a “growth mindset.”
The “growth mindset” is detailed in Carol Dweck’s book titled Mindset: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential. The basic premise is that intelligence can grow over time, thus all learners can improve. To foster this idea, parents and teachers can say to a child, “You worked really hard to complete this assignment. Great job!” Notice the difference? It is placing the emphasis on the student’s effort. It is important for students to be able to persist through difficult tasks and realize that hard work reaps rewards. If students are praised for their hard work, they are more likely to take risks and believe in their own self-efficacy.
Now imagine that you are in that grade school classroom once again. If the teacher walks by your desk and says to your neighbor, “I can see how hard you’ve been working, well done,” you might think, “Maybe I can work a little harder.” Believing that output correlates with effort will bring a student much further in life than believing that intelligence is unchanging, and it will set them up for much greater success.