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Home arrow COMMUNITY arrow Health & Fitness arrow Getting to the heart of intelligence

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Getting to the heart of intelligence

Students with a growth mindset put forth effort to master a skill despite difficulties and setbacks, according to Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, who spoke to educators and school counselors during the Brain Awareness 2014 workshop sponsored by Oregon Health and Sciences University Brain Institute and facilitated by Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center. (TRISH YERGES/The Observer)
Students with a growth mindset put forth effort to master a skill despite difficulties and setbacks, according to Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, who spoke to educators and school counselors during the Brain Awareness 2014 workshop sponsored by Oregon Health and Sciences University Brain Institute and facilitated by Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center. (TRISH YERGES/The Observer)
 

Student success hinges on their mindset, Stanford doctor tells workshop

How well a child performs in school has a lot to do with how that child perceives his or her intelligence.

Is intelligence a fixed trait or can it grow with effort? 

These questions were at the heart of the presentation, “Transforming Students’ Motivation to Learn” given by Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck via teleconference broadcasted from Portland to Eastern Oregon University and sites in Ontario and Bend recently. 

An audience of educators and school counselors attended the Brain Awareness 2014 workshop sponsored by Oregon Health and Sciences University Brain Institute and facilitated by Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center.

Students tend to demonstrate two basic mindsets about learning. Some have a fixed mindset where they believe that intelligence is a fixed trait — you either got it or you don’t — it’s all in the genes. 

“A fixed mindset turns students into non-learners,” Dweck said. “They believe in their natural power. So when they stumble, they don’t recover. They perceive effort as a bad thing, and they think if they are smart, things should come naturally.”

On the other hand, some students have what Dweck called a “growth mindset” where the student believes intelligence can be developed with persistence and different strategies. Even failed attempts at a task are viewed as opportunities to try new strategies. 

“In growth mindset, effort and struggle are good things,” Dweck said. “These allow you to grow your abilities over time. Even geniuses have to work hard for their abilities.”

She cited Albert Einstein as an example of someone with a growth mindset, who failed many times and put in years and years of labor before he succeeded. 

“Mindsets do matter,” Dweck said. “Students do not hold the same mindset in different areas. Someone can have a developed mindset in sports, but a fixed mindset in another area. This can be changed, however.”

A fixed mindset is not inherent, but demonstrates more of an unwillingness to learn. Still, the brain has amazing plasticity, and with persistent effort, it can grow new synapses that create new data imprints and ultimately learned skills.

Dweck’s mindset psychology provides parents and teachers with a new approach to motivating students to become learners, and it overturns previously held beliefs about how to instill motivation in our children.

“Where does the growth mindset come from?” Dweck said. “We used to think it came from praising our kid’s intelligence, but after 15 years of research, we found this approach fails. We have found out that praising a child’s intelligence made them dumber.”

Dweck encourages parents to praise the process or effort the child puts forth rather than offering intelligence praise. Parents should say to their child, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have tried really hard.”

Parents can develop in their child a growth mindset by praising their effort, struggle and persistence despite setbacks. 

“Praise their strategies and choices,” Dweck said. “Praise the fact that they chose a difficult task, and if they should fail at the task, tell them, ‘Even though you didn’t get there yet, I think you’ll succeed next time.’”

The words “yet” and “next time” encourage the child to persist longer at the task and do better. It helps your child get on that learning curve, Dweck said.

Stereotyping intelligence by gender is not a threat to those with growth mindsets. 

“For example, when someone says, ‘Girls aren’t good at math,’” Dweck said. “Well, kids with a growth mindset are not impaired by those kind of stereotype statements.”

It’s never too late for growth mindset intervention, Dweck said. 

“In a study of 13 high schools around the country, the lowest achievers responded to a growth mindset intervention,” she said. “Within three months the bottom students showed greater achievement.”

When parents and educators embrace the growth mindset themselves, they will be able to help students fulfill their potential and motivate former non-learners to view new skills and abilities as attainable with effort and persistence.

“The growth mindset approach includes teaching for understanding, not for the high stakes test scores,” Dweck said.

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