Crack Goes the Pencil 📝

Don’t tell me how talented you are. Tell me how hard you work.
~Artur Rubenstein

The sound of the pencil cracking in half is deafening.  All she has to do complete 10 problems on combining fractions.  How did we get to the point where she is crying, ripping her paper in half, and snapping her pencil?!  I offer to help her and she exclaims, “You don’t understand the way my teacher wants it!  It’s going to be wrong and it CAN’T be wrong!”

This is an example of a homework session with my sixth grade daughter, and it may sound familiar to you.

How did we get to this point?  Learning new concepts and ways of thinking is supposed to be exciting.  Unfortunately, when it comes to homework, my child has taken on a fixed mindset.  Carol Dweck introduces us to the concept of fixed and growth mindsets in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Below is a brief explanation of Dweck’s Mindsets.

  • Fixed Mindset – people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

  • Growth Mindset – people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the fixed mindset is commonly and often unintentionally encouraged by parents and teachers.  So very often we praise our kids as being smart or tell them they are the most gifted child ever or lavish them with praise when they get a good grade.  Dweck would say that this type of praise is misguided.  To encourage growth and perseverance, we need to give kids feedback on their effort and on the process they undertake to figure out a problem.

In our house, we started small.  We replaced comments like “great job” and “you’re so smart” with feedback like “You must’ve worked really hard on that!” or “How did you get that done?” or “How do you feel about that grade?”  These types of comments not only honor the process of learning, but encourage a conversation about learning.  These simple changes in the way we give our kids feedback have really changed the way they approach their work. Rather than focusing on the end product, our kids are focused on the process by which they get the work done.  While we still have arguments over homework (our daughter is 11, after all), her  “fixed mindset”-type comments have all but stopped.

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One comment on “Crack Goes the Pencil 📝
  1. barbara says:

    excellent reminder. thank you……if only my growth mindset kicks in, i’ll know i too can change my feedback to my 8th grader…..

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