Scientist promotes: Hard work = intelligence

Stanford University behavioral scientist Dave Paunesku has become an evangelist for promoting the understanding that you can grow intelligence like a muscle.

His work is focused on changing mindsets from a “fixed” belief that you are born smart or with  talent to a “growth” belief that you can become smarter by working hard and learning from your mistakes. In the education world, Paunesku wants students, teachers and parents to focus on how children can improve rather than how they might be judged.

“I’m inspired and frustrated in the gap between what the research community and practitioners know about this,” said the Stanford University researcher and founder of PERTS, an effort to “fill the gap” between what scientists know and what some educators and parents believe.

“Our goal was to discover and promote practices that students can adapt and understand that intelligence is something you can grow,” he said.

Paunesku spoke Tuesday afternoon before more than 100 educators and community leaders at the EdSessions, a luncheon speaker series that features some of the nation’s learning experts.

Paunesku said too many Americans believe that intelligence is something you are born with. Not true. It’s critical in education to focus on effort and how to improve over time, rather than qualities interpreted as stable, like talent — something you either have or your don’t have.

So how do we fix our mindsets to believe that growth is possible? Paunesku offered four strategies:

  1.  Learn the evidence of growth. Scientific evidence proves the brain can and does change over time, past childhood.
  2.  Don’t forget the growth in growth mindset. It’s not just optimism, he said. It’s about doing things that are hard to make yourself better and then you will be able to move on to bigger, better and harder things. It’s not about being positive or “giving it your best shot” but rather knowing through practice you can improve yourself.
  3. Challenge yourself and others. Push yourself until you make mistakes and seek help — that’s how you get better and smarter. Teachers should create a culture that gives challenging work where mistakes are expected. Mistakes lead to a focus on the learning opportunities instead of identifying what you don’t know.
  4. Monitor for fixed mindset thoughts. Teachers and parents should learn to recognize the difference between statements and ideas that are not in a growth mindset. For example, telling a child he or she is “not a math person” is a fixed mindset statement. Focus statements to a child about what he or she doesn’t have and the effort or strategies it takes to achieve those things.

Paunesku’s learning tool for teachers: was designed to help teachers learn how to put this kind of thinking into practice.

Introduction of Bluum

Bluum, a non-profit learning organization, was introduced on Tuesday during EdSessions. Bluum staff was on hand to explain how their new group exists to support school choice, leaders who take risks and innovative practices.

Terry Ryan of the Idaho Charter School Network was named the chief executive officer of Bluum. The charter network will reside under the umbrella of Bluum, which plans to reach out to all schools and educators — outside of the charter network — interested in innovation.

Disclosure: EdSessions luncheons and Bluum are sponsored by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which funds Idaho Education News. 

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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