Why do some children give up while others power on, and how can we motivate students for learning?
The IQ Myth
For many years it has been assumed that a student’s IQ will determine their level of educational success or failure. When a student struggles in the classroom, they are sent for intelligence testing. Children are deemed ‘gifted and talented’ or with an ‘educational disability’ based on IQ scores. While it is important to assess a student’s abilities to determine how to help them most effectively, there is another important factor that influences a child’s educational opportunities and later life choices.
Motivation – the secret to successful learning
While ability and socioeconomic factors have a role to play, motivation is just as important, and may be the secret to successful learning. Every teacher has a story to tell about a highly intelligent child who could not reach their full potential due to lack of interest, or a child with average or below average ability who went on to do well because they worked hard for their goals.
Learned helplessness mindset
If a student experiences repeated failure, they are at risk of developing a ‘learned helplessness’ mindset – that is, believing that they cannot succeed at any task they are given. For example, a child who performs poorly on writing tasks will quickly begin to feel that nothing he does will have any effect on his performance. When later faced with any type of writing task, he/she may experience a sense of helplessness.
A student with a growth mindset believes that their own efforts can have a positive outcome. These students are more likely to be stimulated by new challenges and to respond to failure with optimism.
How to help students build a growth mindset
Self confidence and the explanations a student gives to themself for their successes and failures play a vital part in the learning process. There are some children who arrive at their first day of school with remarkable levels of confidence and ability, but for the most part, children’s views of themselves as learners will be shaped by their early learning experiences.
- Praise achievements – students need timely feedback in order to learn from their achievements and errors. Provide this feedback in a positive manner, be specific and encourage a growth mindset when you do so. For example, “I like the way you worked on that until you got it!”.
- Students at risk stop asking for help. So regardless of whether you’re a parent, teacher or clinician, don’t forget to continually remind the student that you are there to support them, and encourage them to ask constructive questions.
- Have high expectations – It may sound strange but lowered expectations have been shown to have a negative impact on how well children actually learn and even on how willing they are to attempt tasks. Set the bar realistically high and your student might just reach it.
- Drop the labels – words such as “slow,” “stupid,” “lazy,” and “dumb” can have a devastating impact on motivation, curiosity and confidence and are unfortunately all too frequently heard during the impressionable early school years.
- Teach positive learner attributes – students may need to be taught about words like “enthusiastic,” “motivated,” “inquisitive,” “alert,” “spirited,” “persevering,” “curious” and “inquiring”. Identify and foster these characteristics through verbal and visual cues.
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