-by Tijl Koenderink & proofread by Stephanie Bourgonje
One of the most interesting things I have read on the subject of mindset is the work of Carol Dweck, an American professor, who did a lot of research on “growth” vs. “fixed” mindset.
When you look at the literature of intelligence research, you’ll notice two ‘schools’ taking opposite perspectives.The first one says that intelligence is static (fixed): it is set for life. If you are born with a certain IQ, then it will stay that way all your life, with only perhaps a slight curve within possible reach. The second has a different view: it is about the plasticity (growth) of intelligence. From this perspective, the more you use and train your intelligence, the more your brain functions will improve and expand – or as they would say in the US: “Use it, or lose it”.
One of Carol Dweck’s studies involved a math summer camp, where researchers divided a group of children in half. The first group was presented with all of the research saying that intelligence is static – if you are good at something, then good for you, but if you are bad at something then tough luck, because you will never learn. The second half of the group was told about the research on plasticity – it does not matter what you can or can’t do, as long as you work on it you will get better at it. As long as you develop, you will improve.
They then put the groups back together in the same classroom, with the same books and the same teachers, for the remaining time of the camp. Interestingly, they found a profound difference at the end of summer. The ‘static’ group’s math skills did not change very much – and why should it? By telling the kids they were just bad at math and would never be able to improve their skills, they took away all motivation for change and hard work. The ‘plasticity’ group, on the other hand, showed much improved math skills at the end of camp. Their mindset drove them to work hard and, in this case specifically, get better at math.
This experiment shows that whichever intelligence theory you (subconsciously) believe in, static or plasticity, is of essential importance.
Carol Dweck then looked further and asked: “What is it that gives you this mindset?”. She did another study, in which she gave a group of children a few puzzles. The first series of puzzles were simple so that the kids would successfully finish them, but afterwards they gave them three different kinds of feedback. The first group of children heard: ‘what a good solution you found, what a good end result!’ The second group was told: ‘you are so smart, you got the right solution.’ And lastly, they told the third group the following: ‘you really worked hard, you really persevered and got to the solution.’ All positive feedback of course, because nowadays it is all about positively reinforcing kids.
At the second puzzle series a profound difference became apparent. These were a lot harder and even after trying, most kids would not get very far.The first group tried it, but eventually got stuck and became frustrated, but they did not feel too bad about it afterwards. The second group, however, tried their hardest but got stuck pretty quickly. In their minds arose the belief they would not be smart enough to solve this series of puzzles, leaving no use for them in working harder. The third group started, got stuck, but perseveringly kept on puzzling. Although they did not reach the perfect end result, these kids still felt the best about themselves.
The third challenge again was a simple one, or rather more in line with the abilities of the kids. The first group finished the test, got a good end result and were generally happy. The second group tried it, but could not get through. Their assumption that they would not be smart enough anymore stood in their way, when in fact they should have been able to finish the test. The third group worked hard, persevered, finished the test and felt happy.
So why is this so important to keep in mind when dealing with gifted kids? Their entire lives, they hear: “You are so smart; so talented, so gifted and fast!” But one day, everybody runs into their own limit.
Whether you are 8 years old, 15 years old or 25 years old, one day you will find something that is hard for you to do. And if you never learned or were trained in persevering, that is something you will not do. To focus on giving the right kind of feedback to our kids therefore is very important. I have a three step approach of what we should focus on:
1. Perseverance and hard work: if you work hard, I will be proud of you
2. Strategy: you should work hard in a smart way
3. End result
Throughout history there have been plenty of people who were not that bright, but by pure perseverance they were able to change the face of the planet. Keep this in mind while giving feedback to your kids, and you will see the change. This way you will give your child or student a growth mindset, instead of a fixed mindset. The sooner you start, the better.
You’ll be surprised how much you can help somebody by giving this type of feedback. Make sure you bring out the best in yourself and in each other.
Tijl Koenderink is the founder and master trainer of Novilo, a company that helps schools, teachers and parents create a place for gifted and talented childeren. You can find his Facebook page right here!