Educators are big fans of educational neuroscience, a field more commonly known as brain-based education. More than any other professionals I can think of, educators have been quick to “get” just how important neuroscience is to what they do.
They have enthusiastically adopted the latest discoveries about what happens in the brain during learning to better align their teaching with how the learning process really works. Why not share this excitement about what science is learning about the brain with students? says Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success at a Learning Forward conference this summer. More specifically, why not share with them a highly motivating bit of information: The brain actually does get bigger and stronger from learning, much like a muscle gets stronger and more efficient the more it is worked.
Once students understand that their brains form new connections when they put more effort into learning, they become more engaged, Dweck says. They understand that their teacher is an ally in helping their neurons grow. The students who would most benefit from this bit of knowledge are children who have a “fixed mindset” about learning, who believe that their talents and intelligence are, well, fixed, and not apt to grow or change. They don’t have expect to expand their potential for growth.
Unlike students with a “growth mindset”, who may be more intrinsically motivated to cultivate their abilities, children with a “fixed mindset” are motivated primarily by grades, reputation and how others perceive them. Let kids in on this scientific secret–the more they use their brains to learn and work, the smarter they will become.
Research shows that giving children this information really does motivate them, Dweck says. In a study by Lisa Blackwell et al., adolescents who participated in a program on the brain and study skills were divided into two groups. Half of them, the control group, were taught about the stages of memory. The other half received training in the growth mindset (how the brain grows with learning to make you smarter) and how to apply this idea to their schoolwork.
Three times as many students in the growth mindset group showed an increase in effort and engagement. Few children think they can become better athletes without working hard. What if they finally understood that the same principles apply in intelligence?