Monday, September 22, 2014

Growth Mindset Learning: Should Parents Tell Kids They Are Smart?

Salman Kahn of Kahn Academy

Just about a month ago, I found an article written by Salman Kahn (Sal) of Kahn Academy, with the subtitle "Why I would Never Tell My Son He's Smart."  The subtitle intrigued me.  I have four girls, all smart, in my humble opion, and I have always told them this.  One graduated from high school at 16 and she is now enrolled in a doctoral course at Brown University, not having to complete her Masters in order to attain that feat. My other girls are still in school at various stages and they have always been in gifted programs etc.  Have I made a mistake by telling them they are smart?

Parenting Style

My parenting style is somewhat strict with lots of affection, lots of hugs, lots of kisses, lots of I Love You and yes as much confidence boosting, You Are Smart as I could muster.  So, I thought that Sal was crazy.  But I decided to take some time and read his article.  You should too.  

Growth Mindset

Sal makes the following convincing points:

  1. Nobody is Born Smart:  We all have to work hard to learn to walk, read, etc. etc.  Every gain in our development is paid by a price, whether time, energy, and for some it comes with tears.

  2. We are Born to Learn:  We are humans, that is what we do.

  3. Struggle is Part of the Learning Process:  Muscles grow stronger when we exercise/struggle; they atrophy as a result of disuse.  The brain is the same.

  4. Know You Will Get It:  You must have unwavering belief that, that which you can not do, you can do, if you persevere.

  5. Complex Concepts are Based on Basic Ideas:  Everthing that we must learn, no no matter how complex, can be broken down to basic understandable concepts.

  6. Know That You Can Learn Anything:  And if you know this to be true, you will.

According to Sal, these ideas are critical to the learning process.  Not that we are smart; but that we can learn anything.  If we focus on this fact, then the process becomes more important than the results, which is why Sal rewards the process. His 5 year old understands this because he is rewarded for the struggle and not for the accomplishment.  Focusing our attention on the process is what Sal and other scholars call the growth mindset toward learning.


Tortoise and the Hare

As I read Sal's article I reflected on the classic story of the tortoise and the hare.  Should I raise my other three girls telling them they are smart and rewarding the results or should I change my style of parenting and reward the effort despite the results.  Obviously, the Tortoise won this race but in the race of life it seems like the tortoise always wins.

So, I will change.  I find that focusing on the results, instead of the process, can lead to other negative qualities, such as procrastination tendencies.  Kids can suffer from the malady of the hare; I am smart therefore I don't have to work hard.  What ends up happening is that the tortoise becomes accustomed to working hard and they continue to do so throughout their lives. 

As Sal indicates the brain is very maleable.  It can grow and it can also, like muscles atrophy from disuse.  Challenges, even if one fails, help the brain to get stronger. We want all of our kids to embrace failure and know that it is ok.  It is part the process and if they persevere they will eventually succeed!

If you haven't visited Kahn Academy as yet, please do so ASAP.  It has so much information that is of academic benefit to kids from K-College years and best of all, it is all free!  Also here is Sal's article: The Learning Myth by Salman Kahn.

Let me know what you think and always remember "Life is Good."

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments on this post.