Intelligence is not static: Developing a growth mindset in your child

Career & Education

Intelligence is not static: Developing a growth mindset in your child

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Print this page Email A Friend!

Intelligence is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. Many believe that intelligence is fixed, and some parents even refer to their child as a 'dunce' if he or she is not excelling academically. The belief that intelligence is set in stone is described as a fixed mindset, which imposes the belief on students that their intelligence is a static trait.

What if we thought of intelligence as NOT being fixed? What if we as parents and educators started to think that intelligence can be changed?

Enter the so-called growth mindset. It's a relatively new concept in many education settings. It is the idea that with effort and perseverance, it is possible to increase intelligence, skills and abilities. It conceptualises that through the right training, our brains can be developed, just like muscles do from gym work. The term was coined by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor.

Understanding the principles and implementing the strategies of a growth mindset should become a teaching priority. However, it involves changing a culture, and it requires work and action.

In my own role as an educator, I utilise the principles behind the growth mindset and have seen first-hand the difference it makes in a student's life. Thomas Edison said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” As educators and parents, we must believe that success and mistakes are linked; in fact, they are complementary. Success and mistakes can be likened to how the left foot and right foot work in creating a forward motion. Mistakes are useful and certainly not in conflict with academic success. When a student does poorly on a test or an exam, this should be used to move the child forward by making sure that the student understands how and why the errors were made. It should not be used to humiliate the student.

The growth mindset seeks to improve intelligence by encouraging persistence and treating criticism as opportunities for progress, and should be taught to students. The mind is a powerful thing, and the stories you tell yourself about the things you believe about yourself can profoundly affect one's abilities and behaviour.

Imagine the positive effects this would have on the self-esteem of our youngsters as they navigate through the education system!


• Focus on improvement

The fixed mindset is focused on judging whether the student is smart or not. The growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses on positive traits always. If the student is doing well, then you tell that student that he or she is on the right track. If a student is not doing well, then it is a matter of “yet”. It means that changes need to occur so that positive growth can take place.

• Teach the concept to students

Help your students to understand the concept of the growth mindset; that their intelligence is most definitely not fixed. Assist students to see their potential and make them responsible for their own learning. Help them to stop self-defeating thoughts as they enter their minds and lift them up with encouragement and love.

• Set micro goals rather than large goals

When students are able to achieve small goals repeatedly, this leads to increased confidence and ultimately to a growth mindset. They see that their efforts can reap rewards. Teach them that daily constructive actions lead to major positive changes.

• Alter assessment strategies

Many parents like to see test results and feel that they are the ultimate gauge of their child's ability or inability in a subject. I disagree with this approach and often give formative assessments that are ungraded. This assesses how the student is learning without putting a score. This is not to say that summative assessment is unnecessary. We are educating students to sit a formal exam at some point. However, it is unnecessary to put obstacles too early along the road to this big exam. In the early stages of external examination preparation, it is best to assess without a score, re-teach concepts which have not yet been mastered, reinforce lessons and ensure plenty of practice.

• Praise

The feedback given to students can influence their mindsets. Research suggests that rather than praise students for their innate intelligence, it is better to praise them for their effort. Students praised for effort believed that their performance was subject to improvement and that this is a continuous process.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of ' Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success ' and ' Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools' . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon