Thursday, November 15, 2012

Student struggle is a good thing!

NPR recently interviewed UCLA researcher Jim Stigler about the differences between how the US and other cultures view student struggle.

In the US, we typically attribute academic success to intelligence, and often give praise by admiring how smart someone is. In many east Asian cultures, success is attributed to continued effort, and children are praised for their persistence to overcome obstacles.

A possible consequence is that US children who do not have immediate success at a task will abandon the effort--their intelligence was evidently insufficient.  And US education authorities view student struggle as an indicator that something is wrong--the term "struggling student" is used to designate a student who requires some intervention, rather than to describe a student experiencing an essential stage of deep understanding.

Asian cultures often embrace student struggle as a key indicator of future success.  And it actually should be embraced by educators following the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which has as its first standard of Mathematical Practices:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Praising intelligence rather than effort also reinforces a fixed mindset, which can limit a person's successes, whereas praising effort promotes the development of a growth mindset. Carol Dweck has fascinating data on how mindsets affect learning and how mindsets can be changed.


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