“Smart” can be learned, and practiced — but probably not born

October 5, 2011

“I just can’t learn — my memory just doesn’t work.”  Third time today I heard that excuse.

It’s not true.  A lot of what we do in education is based more on tradition than any kind of research — school in the winter, start in the morning, quit in the afternoon, 30 kids sitting at desks in rows, testing for mastery, bells to change shifts classes — but here’s something we do know:  Practice brings mastery; practice makes perfect, more than talent does.

This is an encore post from 2007:

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice to Dweck’s work. See this story in Stanford Magazine.

Still true. In short, kids, you can learn the material, and you can learn to learn better — with practice.

Are you practicing?

More, and fun resources: 


Practice, even with failure, more important than talent

November 20, 2007

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice to Dweck’s work. See this story in Stanford Magazine.

See a significant update on this article, in October 2012, here.

 


Quote of the Moment: Ellen Langer on learned helplessness

November 14, 2007

A much more pernicious loss of choice and control is brought about by repeated failure.  After a number of experiences in which our efforts are futile, many of us will give up.  Well-known research by psychologist Martin Seligman and others shows that this learned helplessness then generalizes to situations where the person can, in fact, exercise control.  Even when solutions are available, a mindless sense of futility prevents a person from reconsidering the situation.  The person remains passive in the face of situations that could easily be handled without undue difficulty.  Past experience determines present reactions and robs the individual of control.   . . .

Learned helplessness was originally demonstrated in rats.  When placed in ice water, they have no difficulty swimming around for forty to sixty hours.  However, if, instead of being put immediately into the water, the rats are held until they stop struggling, something very different happens.  Instead of swimming, these rats give up immediately and drown.

Ellen J. Langer (b. 1947), Harvard University psychologist, Mindfulness, 1989, pp. 53-54


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