Let’s not believe ability and potential are predetermined and fixed. What’s in an IQ test? Clearly, there is a part to be played by our genes but there is more and more understanding now of how genes react with our environment to create who we are and who we become.
Our brains have tremendous elasticity so there is no end to how much we are able to absorb, develop and achieve. Naturally, there are a variety of different starting points, different backgrounds and different interests but the message is clear: intelligence is not fixed. Growing our brain is all about constantly providing opportunities to exercise that grey matter.
Are clever children the ones that are successful? Not always. Think back to your own year group at school. Who came out on top? Success is not the reserve of those seemingly golden girls and boys in the classroom. Indeed, nominally ‘bright’ children can develop a fixed mind-set in the early years whereby, as they are used to succeeding and doing well, they fear losing this status. They are used to being considered clever and want to retain the perfect image and remain top of the class. Children with a fixed mind-set do not want to be challenged in case they fail. They do not want to look as if they find something difficult because, if it doesn’t come naturally, surely that means they are not so clever after all. Going forward beyond the school years, a fixed mind-set can be limiting.
Conversely, when children are encouraged towards a ‘growth mind-set’ whereby a challenge is viewed as a chance to get smarter and setbacks are an important part of learning; every struggle is seen as a positive. Simply put, when we make a mistake in Maths, our brain grows as we try to figure it out. We are working hard, fuming, furrowing our brows and chewing our pencil but as we forge a path through to the correct answer, the struggle is making us stronger and more prepared for the next problem solving exercise. When accessing the answer comes quickly and the child works out a solution with little or no effort, the brain grows less; there is less opportunity to grow. The idea behind growing the brain is that children instinctively want to push on to more difficult challenges, they want to stretch themselves and have no fear of tripping up along the way.
Everyone can get better and there is no knowing in advance where the ceiling is. There is a way through for every child. If a classroom can advocate ‘belief’ and aim to set the bar high with comments like ‘I can see where you are going with that picture,’ followed by a target, ‘Now try to introduce another colour in the sky’, children will respond and up their game. Praise for effort, strategies and perseverance will motivate children; there is every point in striving onwards, not to chase a grade by to learn for themselves and ultimately to build towards a rich and successful future.