Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Growth Mindset

It comes as no surprise that intelligence as it is exercised by humans is not a fixed commodity, it can expand or contract and our hope as citizens is that the schools we fund contribute to the expansion of intelligence.

Unfortunately our schools, ever fixated on processing the memorization of fact and the limited mind-numbing mechanics of fact often leave children who cannot memorize well feeling incapacitated in terms of intelligence.

A recent NPR report tells us why encouraging children to believe in their capacity for growth rather than their ability to pass a test is a better way to learn.
Dweck wondered whether a child's belief about intelligence has anything to do with academic success. So, first, she looked at several hundred students going into seventh grade, and assessed which students believed their intelligence was unchangeable, and which children believed their intelligence could grow. Then she looked at their math grades over the next two years.

"We saw among those with the growth mindset steadily increasing math grades over the two years," she says. But that wasn't the case for those with the so-called "fixed mindset." They showed a decrease in their math grades.

This led Dweck and her colleague, Lisa Blackwell, from Columbia University to ask another question.

"If we gave students a growth mindset, if we taught them how to think about their intelligence, would that benefit their grades?" Dweck wondered.

So, about 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in math, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain.

The students in the latter group "learned that the brain actually forms new connections every time you learn something new, and that over time, this makes you smarter."

Basically, the students were given a mini-neuroscience course on how the brain works. By the end of the semester, the group of kids who had been taught that the brain can grow smarter, had significantly better math grades than the other group.

"When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections," Dweck says. "When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing."

Dweck says this new mindset changed the kids' attitude toward learning and their willingness to put forth effort. Duke University psychologist, Steven Asher, agrees. Teaching children that they're in charge of their own intellectual growth motivates a child to work hard, he says.

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