As children head back to school next week, many will carry a self-defeating idea inside their heads, that “I’m smart” or “I’m dumb.”

That’s according to Anne Keith, an eighth-grade teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School, who taught a workshop on “Mindsets and motivation” Friday to about 30 fellow Bozeman teachers.

Kids who believe their intelligence is a fixed quantity assume there’s nothing they can ever do to change it, Keith said.

But if children are taught that they can actually grow their own intelligence — that the brain is like a muscle that they can make stronger with persistent effort — that can make a big difference in their willingness to work hard, to keep trying to learn and to succeed, both in school and in life, she said.

Teachers and parents need to be aware that the way they praise or criticize kids can affect whether children are likely to give up or keep trying, she said.

In her math classroom, one of the rules Keith has posted says, “Smart is not something I am. Smart is something I can get!

The secret to raising smart kids, as a 2007 Scientific American article summed it up, is “Don’t tell your kids that they are.” Decades of research have shown that effort — rather than intelligence and ability — is the key to success in school and in life.

Keith based her ideas on research by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor. Keith learned about Dweck at a 2007 educational training institute in Portland, which she attended thanks to winning a Cashman-Rinker Scholarship.

In one of Dweck’s studies, 91 junior-high students whose math grades were falling were divided in two groups.

One was taught study skills. The others were taught both study skills and how the brain works. The second group was taught that the brain grows stronger with use, that learning makes neurons grow new connections in the brain and that they have the power to affect their own brain development.

“You mean, I don’t have to be dumb?” was one unruly boy’s reaction.

As the weeks went on, the brain-growth students saw their math grades bounce back, while the study-skills-only group continued to decline.

Keith said Dweck’s ideas have helped her when she meets a student who says, “I’m stupid,” or “Math sucks,” or a parent who says, “He’s not good at math, I’m not good at math.”

On the flip side are children whose well-meaning parents and teachers have always told them, “You’re so smart.”

Their intention is to boost self-esteem. But instead kids get the message that if success means they’re smart, any failure means they’re dumb. When those kids inevitably run into harder challenges, they tend to give up easily, she said.

Keith offered this advice for parents and teachers:

Praise effort, not ability.

Tell kids hard work pays off.

Treat failure as a natural part of learning.

Don’t say, “Oh, you learned that so quickly, you’re so smart” or “You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying.”

Say instead, “I like that you took on a challenging project, it will take a lot of work, but you’re going to learn great things,” or “That homework was so long, I admire the way you concentrated and finished it.”

It’s true that different people have different abilities, talent and intelligence. But even Mozart and Michael Jordan, though born with talent, had to work hard to cultivate it through years of hard work, she said.

Keith’s workshop was one of 28 teaching-training sessions held by the Bozeman School District over the past two days.

Workshops covered everything from crisis intervention to Indian education for all students, and attracted more than 250 teachers, said Robin Arnold, the Bozeman schools’ curriculum and grants coordinator.

One nationally known speaker, Michael Grinder, author of 13 books, taught teachers better ways to manage students’ classroom behavior, stressing nonverbal communication, so they can spend less time on discipline and more time on teaching.


Source: The Bozeman Daily Chronicle –