FW: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

     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 life

By Carol S. Dweck
Scientific American

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 their son's
confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But
their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a
composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork,
their 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

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who
coast through the early grades under the dangerous
notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them
as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit
belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making
striving to learn seem far less important than being (or
looking) smart. This belief also makes them see
challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort
as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to
improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and
motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children's innate abilities, as Jonathan's
parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also
prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and
even marriages from living up to their potential. On the
other hand, our studies show that teaching people to
have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on
effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make
them into high achievers in school and in life.

The Opportunity of Defeat

I first began to investigate the underpinnings of human
motivation-and how people persevere after setbacks-as a
psychology graduate student at Yale University in the
1960s. Animal experiments by psychologists Martin
Seligman, Steven Maier and Richard Solomon of the
University of Pennsylvania had shown that after repeated
failures, most animals conclude that a situation is
hopeless and beyond their control. After such an
experience, the researchers found, an animal often
remains passive even when it can affect change-a state
they called learned helplessness.

People can learn to be helpless, too, but not everyone
reacts to setbacks this way. I wondered: Why do some
students give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas
others who are no more skilled continue to strive and
learn? One answer, I soon discovered, lay in people's
beliefs about why they had failed.

In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of
ability depresses motivation more than does the belief
that lack of effort is to blame. In 1972, when I taught
a group of elementary and middle school children who
displayed helpless behavior in school that a lack of
effort (rather than lack of ability) led to their
mistakes on math problems, the kids learned to keep
trying when the problems got tough. They also solved
many of the problems even in the face of difficulty.
Another group of helpless children who were simply
rewarded for their success on easy problems did not
improve their ability to solve hard math problems. These
experiments were an early indication that a focus on
effort can help resolve helplessness and engender

Subsequent studies revealed that the most persistent
students do not ruminate about their own failure much at
all but instead think of mistakes as problems to be
solved. At the University of Illinois in the 1970s I,
along with my then graduate student Carol Diener, asked
60 fifth graders to think out loud while they solved
very difficult pattern-recognition problems. Some
students reacted defensively to mistakes, denigrating
their skills with comments such as "I never did have a
good rememory," and their problem-solving strategies

Others, meanwhile, focused on fixing errors and honing
their skills. One advised himself: "I should slow down
and try to figure this out." Two schoolchildren were
particularly inspiring. One, in the wake of difficulty,
pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked
his lips and said, "I love a challenge!" The other, also
confronting the hard problems, looked up at the
experimenter and approvingly declared, "I was hoping
this would be informative!" Predictably, the students
with this attitude outperformed their cohorts in these

Two Views of Intelligence

Several years later I developed a broader theory of what
separates the two general classes of learners-helpless
versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different
types of students not only explain their failures
differently, but they also hold different "theories" of
intelligence. The helpless ones believe that
intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain
amount, and that's that. I call this a "fixed mind-set."
Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they
attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel
powerless to change. They avoid challenges because
challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart
less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the
belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think
intelligence is malleable and can be developed through
education and hard work. They want to learn above all
else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your
intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because
slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they
can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are
energizing rather than intimidating; they offer
opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth
mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater
academic success and were quite likely to outperform
their counterparts.

We validated these expectations in a study published in
early 2007. Psychologists Lisa Blackwell of Columbia
University and Kali H. Trzes-niewski of Stanford
University and I monitored 373 students for two years
during the transition to junior high school, when the
work gets more difficult and the grading more stringent,
to determine how their mind-sets might affect their math
grades. At the beginning of seventh grade, we assessed
the students' mind-sets by asking them to agree or
disagree with statements such as "Your intelligence is
something very basic about you that you can't really
change." We then assessed their beliefs about other
aspects of learning and looked to see what happened to
their grades.

As we had predicted, the students with a 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 work 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.
Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability,
those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study
less in the future, try never to take that subject again
and consider cheating on future tests.

Such divergent outlooks had a dramatic impact on
performance. At the start of junior high, the math
achievement test scores of the students with a growth
mind-set were comparable to those of students who
displayed a fixed mind-set. But as the work became more
difficult, the students with a growth mind-set showed
greater persistence. As a result, their math grades
overtook those of the other students by the end of the
first semester-and the gap between the two groups
continued to widen during the two years we followed

Along with Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant, I found a
similar relation between mind-set and achievement in a
2003 study of 128 Columbia freshman premed students who
were enrolled in a challenging general chemistry course.
Although all the students cared about grades, the ones
who earned the best grades were those who placed a high
premium on learning rather than on showing that they
were smart in chemistry. The focus on learning
strategies, effort and persistence paid off for these

Confronting Deficiencies

A belief in fixed intelligence also makes people less
willing to admit to errors or to confront and remedy
their deficiencies in school, at work and in their
social relationships. In a study published in 1999 of
168 freshmen entering the University of Hong Kong, where
all instruction and coursework are in English, three
Hong Kong colleagues and I found that students with a
growth mind-set who scored poorly on their English
proficiency exam were far more inclined to take a
remedial English course than were low-scoring students
with a fixed mind-set. The students with a stagnant view
of intelligence were presumably unwilling to admit to
their deficit and thus passed up the opportunity to
correct it.

A fixed mind-set can similarly hamper communication and
progress in the workplace by leading managers and
employees to discourage or ignore constructive criticism
and advice. Research by psychologists Peter Heslin and
Don VandeWalle of Southern Methodist University and Gary
Latham of the University of Toronto shows that managers
who have a fixed mind-set are less likely to seek or
welcome feedback from their employees than are managers
with a growth mind-set. Presumably, managers with a
growth mind-set see themselves as works-in-progress and
understand that they need feedback to improve, whereas
bosses with a fixed mind-set are more likely to see
criticism as reflecting their underlying level of
competence. Assuming that other people are not capable
of changing either, executives with a fixed mind-set are
also less likely to mentor their underlings. But after
Heslin, VandeWalle and Latham gave managers a tutorial
on the value and principles of the growth mind-set,
supervisors became more willing to coach their employees
and gave more useful advice.

Mind-set can affect the quality and longevity of
personal relationships as well, through people's
willingness-or unwillingness-to deal with difficulties.
Those with a fixed mind-set are less likely than those
with a growth mind-set to broach problems in their
relationships and to try to solve them, according to a
2006 study I conducted with psychologist Lara Kammrath
of Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. After all, if
you think that human personality traits are more or less
fixed, relationship repair seems largely futile.
Individuals who believe people can change and grow,
however, are more confident that confronting concerns in
their relationships will lead to resolutions.

Proper Praise

How do we transmit a growth mind-set to our children?
One way is by telling stories about achievements that
result from hard work. For instance, talking about math
geniuses who were more or less born that way puts
students in a fixed mind-set, but descriptions of great
mathematicians who fell in love with math and developed
amazing skills engenders a growth mind-set, our studies
have shown. People also communicate mind-sets through
praise. Although many, if not most, parents believe that
they should build up a child by telling him or her how
brilliant and talented he or she is, our research
suggests that this is misguided.

In studies involving several hundred fifth graders
published in 1998, for example, Columbia psychologist
Claudia M. Mueller and I gave children questions from a
nonverbal IQ test. 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 their performance improved
markedly on the easier problems that followed.

Making Up Your Mind-set

In addition to encouraging a growth mind-set through
praise for effort, parents and teachers can help
children by providing explicit instruction regarding the
mind as a learning machine. Blackwell, Trzesniewski and
I recently designed an eight-session workshop for 91
students whose math grades were declining in their first
year of junior high. Forty-eight of the students
received instruction in study skills only, whereas the
others attended a combination of study skills sessions
and classes in which they learned about the growth mind-
set and how to apply it to schoolwork.

In the growth mind-set classes, students read and
discussed an article entitled "You Can Grow Your Brain."
They were taught that the brain is like a muscle that
gets stronger with use and that learning prompts neurons
in the brain to grow new connections. From such
instruction, many students began to see themselves as
agents of their own brain development. Students who had
been disruptive or bored sat still and took note. One
particularly unruly boy looked up during the discussion
and said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"

As the semester progressed, the math grades of the kids
who learned only study skills continued to decline,
whereas those of the students given the growth-mind-set
training stopped falling and began to bounce back to
their former levels. Despite being unaware that there
were two types of instruction, teachers reported
noticing significant motivational changes in 27 percent
of the children in the growth mind-set workshop as
compared with only 9 percent of students in the control
group. One teacher wrote: "Your workshop has already had
an effect. L [our unruly male student], who never puts
in any extra effort and often doesn't turn in homework
on time, actually stayed up late to finish an assignment
early so I could review it and give him a chance to
revise it. He earned a B+. (He had been getting Cs and

Other researchers have replicated our results.
Psychologists Catherine Good, then at Columbia, and
Joshua Aronson and Michael Inzlicht of New York
University reported in 2003 that a growth mind-set
workshop raised the math and English achievement test
scores of seventh graders. In a 2002 study Aronson, Good
(then a graduate student at the University of Texas at
Austin) and their colleagues found that college students
began to enjoy their schoolwork more, value it more
highly and get better grades as a result of training
that fostered a growth mind-set.

We have now encapsulated such instruction in an
interactive computer program called "Brain-ology," which
should be more widely available by mid-2008. Its six
modules teach students about the brain-what it does and
how to make it work better. In a virtual brain lab,
users can click on brain regions to determine their
functions or on nerve endings to see how connections
form when people learn. Users can also advise virtual
students with problems as a way of practicing how to
handle schoolwork difficulties; additionally, users keep
an online journal of their study practices.

New York City seventh graders who tested a pilot version
of Brainology told us that the program had changed their
view of learning and how to promote it. One wrote: "My
favorite thing from Brainology is the neurons part where
when u [sic] learn something there are connections and
they keep growing. I always picture them when I'm in
school." A teacher said of the students who used the
program: "They offer to practice, study, take notes, or
pay attention to ensure that connections will be made."

Teaching children such information is not just a ploy to
get them to study. People do differ in intelligence,
talent and ability. And yet research is converging on
the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what
we call genius, is typically the result of years of
passion and dedication and not something that flows
naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and
Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they
cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort.
Similarly, hard work and discipline contribute much more
to school achievement than IQ does.

Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For
instance, many young athletes value talent more than
hard work and have consequently become unteachable.
Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs
without constant praise and encouragement to maintain
their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our
homes and schools, however, we will give our children
the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become
responsible employees and citizens.


-----Original Message-----
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG [mailto:moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 7:11 PM
Subject: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids


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[From Rick Marken (2007.12.02.1930)]

What in the world does this have to do with PCT, Ted?




On Dec 2, 2007 11:02 AM, Ted Cloak <tcloak@unm.edu> wrote:

-----Original Message-----
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG [mailto:moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 7:11 PM
Subject: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Richard S. Marken PhD