Raising Smart Kids

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The Secret to Raising Smarter Kids Photo: James Emery.

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The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Hugh Pickens writes

Scientific American has an interesting article on the secret to raising smart kids that says that 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 shortcomings. In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. One theory of what separates the two general classes of learners, helpless versus mastery-oriented, is 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. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. Mastery-oriented children think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating offering opportunities to learn.
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Scientific American. "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" by Carol S. Dweck November 28, 2007.

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. 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.[1]

New York Times. "The Many Errors in Thinking About Mistakes" by Alina Tugeno. November 24, 2007.

"One thing I’ve learned is that kids are exquisitely attuned to the real message, and the real message is, ‘Be smart,’" Professor Dweck said. "It’s not, ‘We love it when you struggle, or when you learn and make mistakes.’" As we get older, many of us invest a great deal in being right. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we focus on flagellating ourselves, blaming someone else or covering it up. Or we rationalize it by saying others make even more mistakes. What we do not want to do, most of the time, is learn from the experience.[2]

New York Times. "Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says" July 14, 1998.

"Praising children's intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviors such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks," said Dr. Dweck, lead author of the study. "However, when children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem." Children praised for effort attributed more of their low scores to effort than did children praised for intelligence, the researchers found. Children praised for intelligence said a lack of ability was to blame.[3]

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