Don’t Call Me “Smart”!

Last week we looked at rebranding math – shattering the stereotypes and beliefs that have clouded the minds of many students. This week, we naturally transition our focus onto the mindsets of our students and the messages educators and parents/guardians convey. Quite simply, we’re looking at “fixed” vs “growth mind-sets”. A “growth mind-set” is one that understands the correlation between effort and achievement and has a strong will to work hard to improve and grow. A “fixed mind-set” is a belief that talents or intelligence are pre-determined fixed traits that can only improve so much.


Perhaps the most famous researcher and author on this subject is Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor who has spent many (40) years conducting research on the ideas behind the mindsets. She advocates that the Secret to Raising Smart Kids is that we shouldn’t “tell kids that they are [smart]”, rather help them focus on the process (Dweck, 2015). This highlights the dangers of praising students on fixed qualities, such as being talented or smart, because it stifles their efforts to grow and paints mistakes as failures instead of opportunities to learn and improve.

The test results, especially in visual form, really highlight the importance of the messages we give our students… but is it enough to just praise efforts? As we discussed this in our professional learning environment, I couldn’t help but think – if we only praise children for their efforts than we miss the overall objective of actually growing.


Turns out, Carol also realized that many people seem to have misinterpreted the results of her studies. Educators cannot simply claim they have a growth mindset without conveying positive messages that promote learning. Messages and message-framing are important in and outside the classroom. You can find thousands of growth mindset messages online with a simple search, but I believe an equally important aspect of these messages is the consistency with which they are delivered. The educator AND the parents/guardians all need to convey similar messages and beliefs.


(Espinosa, 2015)


In my grade 7 placement last year, my mentor teacher did not allow the students to say, “that was easy”. I loved this rule. “Easy” is a perspective, not a fact and stating something seems easy does not foster a safe environment for learning. If we want students to value effort and view mistakes as learning, the classroom needs to be set up for this. If a student is finding things “easy”, then the educator needs to find a way to help that student grow – a next step for learning or a problem situated in their personal zone of proximal development. Perhaps there is even a value in teaching our students to complement each other on the growth they see in their peers and friends.


“Growth mind-set” is clearly a buzz word in education these days, but for good reason. I hope as an educator I can apply strategies in the classroom and deliver the messages to create this growth environment, especially in the math classroom. There is no “math person”, rather every student can learn math because our brains have the capacity to grow! Please let me know some strategies and messages you have found to be successful in your math classroom (or classroom in general)!

– A


Anderson, J. (2016, January 12). The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point. Retrieved from

Dweck, C. S. (2015, January 1). The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. Retrieved from

Espinosa, O. (2015, June 18). Try one more time. [Image]. Retrieved from

Ragan, T. (2014, January 30). Carol Dweck a Study on Praise and Mindsets. [Video]. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me “Smart”!

  1. I really like the way you have organized your blog posts Andrew!

    Integrating research and videos makes blog posts more effective and engaging because the reader enhances their learning and perspectives; I also like how you invite discussion by asking a question at the end of your posts.

    I love how the grade 7 teacher didn’t allow the word “easy” or that expression in his classroom; it demonstrates to students that learning does not happen if a problem is easy.

    Have you read Dweck’s book? I’d also recommend looking at the work of Angela Duckworth and taking a look at her book “Grit”

    Shelly 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Designing Opportunities for Mistakes | AJ Morris Teacher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s