21 May 2018

Is It Better To Be Smart Or To Work Hard?

What do we want for our children, intelligence or diligence? I am guessing a bit of both would be good.

Carol Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. For the past few decades she has been studying mindset and its impact in success. She studied 400 fifth grade students in the United States. She gave them a simple IQ tests. The first group was praised for their intelligence - for being smart. The second group was praised for their effort - for working hard. While the difference in the type of praise given was minor, the impact it had was dramatic.

After setting the two groups and giving praise for either effort or intelligence, she set the next task. Providing options, the children could either attempt a harder test that would be a great opportunity to learn and grow or to attempt an easier version they were sure to do well on. Out of the group who were praised for the intelligence, 67% chose the easier option. 92% of the children praised for effort chose the harder test.

The children who are being praised for their intelligence hear that they are valued for their intelligence and are less willing to do anything that may change this. They have a set mindset and play it safe and limit the growth of their talents and abilities. The children who are praised for effort see that trying hard and embracing the process of growth is what is valued. They feel that if they make a mistake we won't think they are not talented. They feel that if they do not take on hard things they are not going to grow.

Next, Dr Dweck gave all the children a very difficult test that they would fail at to see how they would address the challenge. The group who were praised for effort worked hard, longer and enjoyed the task. The group praised for their intelligence became frustrated and gave up early.

The final test given was of the same difficulty as the first round. The group praised for their intelligence did worse on the test that the first time with their average score dropping by 20%. The group praised for their effort saw their average score increase by 30%. A simple change in the way these children were praised resulted in a 50% difference in achievement.

Praise is important in encouraging children to do better. We need to be aware of the impact on what we say to children can have on their effort and attitude. A focus on the process and the effort put forth has a dramatic impact on the achievement of children.

In the IB, being a risk taker is a key attribute. The willingness to try, to fail and to try again has been, and is, key to sound learning and the consolidation of skills. The willingness to be a risk taker always leads to breakthroughs and improvements. Being afraid of mistakes and trying something new can result in a person never reaching their potential.

Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma Thunder in the NBA said "Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard". I want our boys to try and try again. I want them to fail, to be faced with challenges that make them have to regroup and navigate through. I want us to see great value in the process and the effort they give. Then we will see them reach their potential whatever that may be.

"Mindset: The New Psychology of Success , Dr Carol Dweck (2008)"


Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School