It’s all in your head: Learning to change perspective

It’s all in your head: Learning to change perspective

by Brieanna Casey

Whether you’re working with students who feel below or above average in the classroom, the most pervasive threat to their future success is the idea that their intelligence and ability, in school and otherwise, is fixed, measurable and innate. The fact is, as proven time and again by Ivy League research teams, intelligence is always in flux and never loses its ability to grow with a healthy helping of encouragement
and motivation.

Fixed Versus Growth Mindset

Thanks to the work of educational psychologists decades ago, many of us have heard of the theory of nature vs. nurture — that certain character traits and behaviors are either innate, inherited by means of our biology, versus learned by means of our physical and social environment. Unfortunately, taken to its logical conclusion, some have used it to support a premise that students’ ability to learn is limited by their genetics, upbringing, socioeconomic status, etc. This mindset sometimes leads those who work with children to bestow less of that all important support and encouragement, which teaches them “learned helplessness,” or the idea that they are dependent on those more able.

Shifting the Paradigm

Stanford psychologist Marina Krakovsky in her article, “The Effort Effect,” explains that what we should be teaching kids is a difference in perspectives, a “fixed mindset” versus a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset can develop in children and follow them into adulthood, reinforcing ideas like “I’m not good at math,” “I’m not smart enough for school,” or that what grades, standardized test scores, or even IQ tests identify as their intelligence level is an unchangeable fate. The truth is we’re still just understanding the concept of intelligence; we have yet to create a test that can objectively measure all the kinds and multifaceted aspects of human intelligence.

Instead, what educational psychologists, like Sir Ken Robinson, have supported, is to teach both “under-achievers” and “over-achievers” how to adopt a growth mindset: The idea that intelligence is simply a matter of sustained motivation and consistent effort … oh, and the idea that failure actually is an option.

When we say to children that “failure is not an option,” we teach them to be afraid to try, and not to continue the repeated practice that is essential for success, and by not giving them the opportunity to fail, we can in fact stilt their growth.

We should try to teach all students that intelligence is malleable, and can be expressed in many creative ways besides traditional academic ability. And that although access to educational opportunities may be dictated by our genes or our income, ability itself is dictated only by our determination to face and overcome failure, not avoid it.

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Brieanna Casey is Head Instructor at The Tutoring Center, Bartonville.


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