Growing or not growing

Posted by Domenico, Uncategorized on Feb 14, 2016

This week, both Willingham and Syed give us a better insight into some of the components of learning and education, as well as some extremely useful tools that can be implemented by teachers in school.

I believe that, the mnemonic techniques described by Willingham can support relational understanding. If students are pushed to think about what they are learning and also to make connections, the outcome will be twofold: to retain information and a deeper understanding of the subject.

Many a time, I have heard teachers complaining that the cause of students’ failure is in the lack of a system of study. And I must admit that, despite having already completed a degree, and having passed many tests in my life, as the majority of us, the tips I have learnt in this article made me realize how much better I would have probably done, by studying in a more effective way.

The brain is a highly adaptable organ and the idea of its plasticity is not news to our ears. As we know, motivation and practice will bring improvements, and that is the whole point of training. Otherwise, why would we bother doing our homework?

Syed’s talk is very inspiring. The very idea that being labeled as talented can be detrimental for someone’s future made me reflect upon the fact that learning is a journey, so failure shouldn’t be seen as catastrophe, as most of the time is, but only as a temporary stage of an ongoing process. Teachers will need to understand that making mistakes is not so bad. It leaves space for improvement. Eventually, if I work better and target my weaknesses, I can unlock the skills that will enable me to succeed in the future.

However, would students accept being only praised for their efforts? Is that enough to motivate them? I believe it can be effective to keep the motivation up of those who like a subject, but they are struggling with learning it. I do not think it is enough to entice those who don’t really care.

Now, please allow me to indulge in a little fantasy and let’s imagine, as Lockhart did, we lived in some sort of dystopian totalitarian society where failure in a subject is not accepted because, it is universally acknowledged that, praising for efforts will eventually make everyone reach the same level in any discipline. For this reason the government forces students to learn certain subjects at all costs, because they are important for the economy and for society. That would be another nightmare.

Praising for efforts pushes towards a growing mindset while praising for talent pushes towards a fixed mindset. I perfectly agree with it. With the right attitude and efforts everyone can eventually become an engineer or a doctor or be good at mathematics. A failure can be seen as a stage of the process of learning or, as Robinson says, as a sign that I might have a different talent and want to learn something else.


  1. pepsmccrea
    19 February 2016

    Great to see you taking on board the ideas offered, and reflecting on your own learning as a result. Praise is a really tricky strategy – it can often do more harm that good – I’d encourage you to find out more about it.

  2. Glen
    22 February 2016

    Really interesting thinkpiece Dom, i like the approaches you made, particularly as mine are so different! My question to you is this however, where Syed talks about targeting ones weaknesses and unlocking the skills to succeed in the future, do you believe that this can be applied universally across education? more specifically, what if the individual doesn’t regard those as weaknesses, but a teacher might tell them they are, do you feel the same approach would be as effective then?

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