Sunday, January 08, 2017

"Fixed" vs. "Growth" Mindsets

So as you know, we’re passing back pre-ACT results today. A couple of things to say so that you understand those scores. 

First, if you’re a freshman, those scores slightly underestimate your current abilities, because you’re being compared with sophomores across the nation. If you want to estimate that effect, you can add about 1 to 2 points to each sub-score and composite.  

Second, you’ll notice that underneath each of those sub-scores, they estimate what you’re likely to make on the ACT in late junior/early senior year. That’s if you grow at the same rate as the rest of the country.  But you can grow at a FASTER rate depending on your effort and attitude these next few years. 

And that’s what is very important to understand about these ACT scores. I want to make a distinction between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” 

A “fixed mindset” says that “who I am now is who I’ll always be.” We often do this—in effect, we stereotype ourselves: You can hear it when someone says “I’m dumb,” or “I stink in Math.”  Sometimes girls think “I’m no good in Math or Science—that’s a boys’ thing—but I’m better in English.” Or exactly the opposite from the boys side: “I’m terrible in English, but I don’t care, because literature is for girls. Boys are supposed to be good in Math and Science and not English.” 

Do you see the common thread? I am ____. I will always be _____. We stereotype ourselves, labelling ourselves as either X or Y. 

The problem with a fixed mindset is it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell yourself you’re a dummy, believe the stereotype, and it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be a dummy all your life. “I’m just dumb in math, so I’ll quit trying to be anything different. Whenever I can, I’ll avoid having to do math.”  But then l never get smarter.  It’s as if intelligence is a FIXED THING—your IQ never changes. 

But science proves, over and over, that intelligence is NOT a fixed thing. It can improve. Or it can deteriorate! It’s all about the neural connections in our brain. How much effort we put in, how much sleep we get, exercise we do, what we eat, can affect the neural connections,  causing us to become smarter.  That’s what’s meant by a “growth” mindset. A growth mindset says “These are my scores now, but they’re not going to define me; I can improve them. I can get smarter. And if you really believe that, and live as if you can, you can in fact get smarter. 

Though it’s not common, I’ve known students to grow 10-12 points on certain subtest scores on the ACT from freshman year to senior year. Whereas improving by 4 points is normal growth from freshman to junior year, I’ve known more than a few students to grow by 6-8 points during that time. 

So don’t be discouraged by your scores. Regard these as your baseline, your starting point. OK, I was here when I was an underclassmen, but I’m going to work really hard, because I am shooting for ____.   

Go to bed earlier. How cool is that? It's the easiest first step in improving intelligence. If you’re snoozing in class a lot, that’s God’s way to telling you that your brain needs more rest. Exercise more regularly. If you feel sluggish, that means your brain isn’t at an optimal level. Eat good food—nutritious food. Yeah, fruits and vegetables, not the pre-processed sugars.  Tackle your worst subject with a kind of “kick butt” attitude—that you’re not going to let it defeat you. Discipline yourself to read more closely—if the teacher is assigning reading homework, read with a pen in hand and summarize the main point of what you read for each page: you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll comprehend if you have to summarize as you read. Start a good book—doesn’t have to be great literature—choose something that interests you. If you like horses, read about horses. Sports, read about sports. But turn off the smart phone at night and read some instead—that’s a HUGE part of the ACT, and to read well, you have to do it frequently. There are no shortcuts. 

Life is an adventure. Look at it as a challenge. Who we turn out to be, how smart we become, is partly up to us. Let’s embrace that and see how far we can go!