| Véronique Fuller | Mars 2019 |


What role do growth mindset, resilience and praise play in children’s talent development and academic success?


Being a Natural


Could being naturally gifted just be an attractive myth?

Woody Allen said “80% of success in life is showing up”. Could 80% of academic success be just perseverance? Lots of people have good ideas in life but those who really succeed at implementing them are the ones who go to the end, stay focused and run the race without dropping out.

Adults know that life may well be full of setbacks whether in our professional or private lives. What will make the difference is how we react to these setbacks. People delivering excellent TED talks have been practicing for hours. Students who are accepted in elite academic institutions have been practicing in their chosen subject written tests and/or interviews for hours, days, months, even years.

Phil Knight, Nike founder, explains in his autobiography “Shoedog” how he spent hours rehearsing his speech to Japanese shoe manufacturers to convince them to close a deal with him; he also recalls how many times he found himself on the verge of bankruptcy. In “Bounce: the myth of talent and the power of practice”, Matthew Syed, former English table tennis table champion, stresses how “top performers have practiced for more hours” and are ready to learn from their mistakes.

Could having the energy to complete each piece of homework and to perfect each assignment to its best be the skill that really makes the difference in terms of academic success?

One key underlying assumption is that the ability to learn is not fixed. If it is not fixed, it means that we can influence it, we can make it better. Neuroscience has been telling us that we, adults or children, can actually work on the plasticity of our brains.

In “Mindset: the new psychology of success“, Carol Dweck summarised years of her research in neuroscience at Stanford suggesting that “intelligence” can be learned. Angela Duckworth, Professor at University of Pennsylvania, has defined this character as grit [1]. “Talent is the rate at which you increase in your skills with effort” [2]. In other words, what really matters is the gradient of the curve. In her mind, grit can be described as passion, perseverance and solid work ethic. She has even defined a grit scale [3]. As a result, she sees “grit” as a good predictor of academic success.

Growth mindset and resilience may be inborn for some but may have to be taught and learned for many others. Who are the main influencers of our children? “Children have two main educators in their lives – their parents and their teachers… There is no clear line to show where the parents’ input stops and the teachers’ input begins. The school and the parents both have crucial roles to play and the impact is greater if parents and schools work in partnership.” [4]

How do we positively convey resilience and growth mindset in the classroom or at home? Vague, sweeping and expansive praise doesn’t seem to help. “Research suggests that it [feedback] should be specific, accurate and clear (e.g. “It was good because you…”); compare what your child is doing right now with what they have done wrong before; encourage and support further effort…And [praise should] be given sparingly so that it is meaningful; provide specific guidance on how to improve and not just when they are wrong.” [5] Our ability to learn doesn’t even stop when we get older. Sandrine Thuret, neuroscience expert at Kings College London even suggests that we can keep on growing new brain cells in older age! [6]

In conclusion, the real question may not be about being a natural or gifted and talented. What could really matter as learners is being positive, nurturing a growth mindset and developing resilience towards learning, whatever our age.


Véronique Fuller