Our attitude to learning
Youngsters are keen to try anything and everything and are rarely put off by thinking they may not be very good. My nephew, when he was about 4 years old, loved drawing (who doesn’t at that age) and his family followed the usual traditions of praising all his efforts. I recall once asking him to draw me a picture of a dog (or some such thing) and he casually scribbled a few lines and curves on a page and presented it to me and his mum. It was clear he had better things to do, and so had made no effort at all. As a result, it bore no remote resemblance to a dog, but he was only 4, and so we both praised appropriately, as expected.
Later, he said to me: “Mummy always likes my drawings even when they’re no good.” He didn’t think all his drawings were good, but at that age, he didn’t care.
What a confident attitude to life: “I know this drawing is no good, but I know I can draw well.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this attitude could be maintained by children as they grow up? Instead, it isn’t long before they say: “I know this is no good – I’m just no good at drawing.”
The Psychologist, Carol Dweck, has been published widely on the concept of growth versus fixed mindsets and I recommend her book on ‘Mindsets’ to you. Here is a taster: why is it that some students seek out challenges and pour effort into mastering skills and abilities, while others avoid this like the plague? Dweck’s response:
“There is no relation between students’ abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.
This shows that being mastery-oriented is about having the right mind-set. It is not about how smart you are.”
Does your daughter ever repeat this mantra, or something like it: “I’m just no good at [provide subject of choice]. I’ve never been good at it. I was just born that way.” This is a fixed mindset: no matter what I do, however hard I work, I will never be good at this. Instead, I would like them to say: “I am no good at this …. yet.” I want the girls to see their short-term setbacks as just that: short-term.
Heather Hanbury, Head Mistress, The Lady Eleanor Holles School