Intelligence vs. Hard Work
By CWK Network Producer
“Students who are learning that intelligence is something that’s gained over time when they don’t do well, they know that they just have to try harder and they will be able to reach that goal.”
— Ken Carter, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, Emory University
Final exams. Graduation requirements. That last big paper or project. This time of year can bring a special kind of anxiety and stress to kids and families.
Parents tell their children all the time, ‘you can do anything you set your mind to.’ A study shows that’s not only true but can also make all the difference in a child’s academic success.
16-year-old Toni is like a lot of other kids. She’s afraid of math.
“I panic when people just mention the word,” she says, “because it’s just been a really big issue in school for me. I’ve always been horrible at it.”
It seems that kids have two different ideas about intelligence.
One is that IQ is fixed at birth, “and that idea is that intelligence is a thing, and you have a certain amount of it,” explains Dr. Ken Carter, associate professor of psychology at Emory University.
“The other theory,” he says, “is the incremental theory of intelligence, which suggests that intelligence is something that you gain or that you gather over time.”
Researchers at Stanford University studied 91 seventh-graders, who were poor math students.
Half the kids were taught that intelligence can be developed – that, with work, you can get smarter.
“And just from that little intervention,” explains Carter, “they found an increase in students’ motivation in their classes and in their math courses – the courses students have the most trouble with, sometimes. They found about a half-a-letter-grade higher in the students that learned about that theory.”
He says their grades went up because they learned that it’s not so much intelligence that determines your grades. It’s how hard you work.
“When they fail, they think they need to put more effort into it,” says Carter. “Their reasoning is that they didn’t – that they need to try more and then they’ll be able to do it.”
And the other kids, who thought they weren’t very smart and there was nothing they could do about it? Their grades stayed the same.
“Students who believe that intelligence is a thing usually give up,” says Carter, “because they just believe that they’re not smart enough to do it.”
He says the lesson that parents can teach their kids is, intelligence can be developed and it can grow – if the child is willing to work and not give up. “This shows them that they may be able to do things that they might not know that they can do,” he says.
18-year-old John says that’s the message his parents have given him; that his perseverance has helped him get through school. “I think sometimes, not succeeding can be more of a learning experience than succeeding,” he says, “cause when you don’t succeed then you can see what you did wrong – and then you can always go back and try it again, and you might get it that time.”
What Parents Need to Know
In the best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that to be an expert on anything, you need to do it for 10,000 hours. Certainly parents don’t expect their children to be experts – at math, social studies, English or whatever the subject at hand. Yet, it does make one stop and think about the sheer amount of time, not only intelligence that is required to master the task. Experts agree, to master a task (or do well on a test), coaching, encouragement and maybe even a little defeat needs to accompany a lot of hard work.
Parents can be the first, and sometimes the best, coach for their kids in many ways. Our words and actions can help maximize our students’ motivation and achievement. Studies show higher test scores for students who live in homes where healthy habits, regular routines, and good communication exist. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for helping your child succeed in school:
Enforce Healthy Habits
You can’t perform well when you don’t feel good. Choose a bedtime that will give your child plenty of sleep, and provide a healthy breakfast each morning. Encourage exercise, and limit the amount of time she spends watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, or using the computer.
Stick to a Routine
Most kids thrive on structure and will respond well to routines that help them organize their days. Your routines may differ, but the key is to make it the same every day so your child knows what to expect.
Create a “Launch Pad”
Veteran parents know it’s important to have a single place to put backpacks, jackets, shoes, lunchboxes, and school projects each day.
Designate a Space
Provide your child with a space with plenty of light, lots of supplies, and enough room to work.
Read, Again and Again
The more you read to and with your child, the better chance he has of becoming a proficient and eager reader.
Home education is a critical part of the overall learning experience. We reply upon teachers, but parents are important to support education at school – and at home.
Perhaps the most important way you can support your child’s efforts at school is to expect him to succeed. If you make that expectation clear and provide a home environment that promotes learning, then your child will have a greater chance of becoming the best student he can be.