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Be in a classroom long enough and you start hearing students say things like, “Well, that’s because she’s smart.” … “I can’t understand that because I’m not smart.” … “He’s smart because he’s Asian.”
Yeah, our students say these kinds of things to make themselves feel better in the moment, but beliefs like that don’t really make them feel better. They trap them in a place.
Many of them believe they are only as smart as they can be. It’s weird how we do this, but after we’ve been around the same group of people for a while, the same students in your class for a couple years, same friends in your life, you peg yourself into a certain spot in the pecking order of life and believe you’re only as smart as between Julie and Thomas. Julie goes up, you go up a little, always between Julie and Thomas. Because inside so many of us is this belief that we can only get so smart.
So when they say they are only “that smart,” I can read the feelings on their face … it feels like they’re really saying, I don’t want to work harder to get as smart as that girl. It’s kind of a way of giving up. They can blame their lack of understanding on their smartness limitations.
So they’ve dived right into the nature vs. nurture debate. Is their IQ fixed or not?
Yeah, they have. Then I was reading this book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us … it’s by a guy named Daniel Pink. It goes into a lot of thoughts about motivation, even a lot of foundational studies about what drives people and students to want more and to do better. It’s really good. At one point that book got me thinking, “Is our intelligence more like height or more like strength?”
So is it limited by DNA or not? Any maybe it’s both.
Yeah, I’ve seen enough students to know that there is definitely a DNA component to it. If you know what I’m saying …
Over my teaching career, I can think of two kids that are freaking genius.
Ha, I was thinking of the opposite examples.
So height or strength … it’s clearly a combo of both. But our students fall into the trap (and probably we teachers too, if we’re honest) of thinking it’s strictly DNA and the question is “How can we get them to take ownership for the strength part?”
Totally. They’ve learned our stereotypes, even the racial ones. And they learned them from all of us adults, I suppose. Where else would they learn them? TV? Movies? Us? That race is smart. That race is lazy. That race is just so-so. That race is athletic. They even believe the stereotypes of people who wear glasses and all those. They’ve mostly learned that intelligence is like height.
So do we learn those stereotypes from something as basic as we use smartness as a compliment, “You are so smart”? It’s a nice compliment to get and when we are trying to affirm kids often that’s one to use, right? It does get said a lot to certain kids, so they believe it about themselves. It also doesn’t get said to some kids as much. They hear, they believe. I know the one year when I had one of the genius kids in my class I made a point of ……….
Yeah, even saying “You ARE so smart” is fixed language. It’s DNA language. What complements could we give instead that would be more strength instead of height?
- You had a really smart idea.
- That’s a really smart plan.
- You are doing some really smart thinking.
- I like how you tried hard to think through that.
- I see some really creative thoughts in there.
“That's some in-depth analysis.”
And use this with all of them, right? Regardless of how much DNA smarts they have. Because using DNA smarts only really yields negative consequences.
- It gives kids false sense of security, so they don’t have to try hard.
- Makes them feel they are naturally better or worse than other kids.
- Steals hope from kids who don’t feel smart.
- Sets students up for hopelessness when things get hard so they want to quit because they must not be smart.
Maybe the only time I could see it partially helpful is when you’re trying to help them feel the responsibility of their intelligence gift and getting them to develop it … but even then I’m using guilt to get the student to develop her smart muscle, which does its own kind of harm, instead of inspiration and grit.
So we just wanted to start the conversation here. We hear our students feeling defeated all the time, and we see how hard it is to convince them that they can make themselves smarter. So let’s continue the conversation.
Conversation of the Day: What is a way we could encourage students that they can all increase their smart instead of being stuck?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.