At the very beginning of my first year teaching, my mother clipped an article called “The Truth About Grit” from the Boston Globe. You can find the full text here, but it’s really only the end of the article that stuck with me enough to hunt it down a year and a half later. What it says is that intelligence tests are not good predictors of real-world success. More than being smart, what matters in making someone successful is their level of “grittiness”. If you can persevere, you can go far. If you give up quickly, you aren’t going to accomplish much… no matter how high your IQ.
This gets relevant when they started praising fifth graders on their grade-level test performance. One group was told, “You must be smart at this” while the other group was told, “You must have worked really hard.” When both groups were given an eighth grade IQ test, the former group gave up quickly while the latter group fought through it for much longer. I think this is gold. If you tell children that they’re smart, there’s not much they can do about that. When something doesn’t come easily to them, they will assume it is beyond their level of intelligence and give up. If you tell kids they’ve done well because they work hard, they’ll keep working hard because that’s something they can control, and they’ll see that as a tool they have to deal with challenges. The article says that both schools and parents are in charge of teaching grittiness – it doesn’t just come naturally – and I’m all about that idea. You can’t argue with the potential benefits.
This is exactly why I’m so opposed to the gifted testing we do at my school. We give kids an IQ test, tell them that they’re gifted (or not!) and then track them accordingly. This might not be a big deal in most classes, where the “gifted group” is just marginally more accelerated than the other groups and just has fewer behavior problems. (Although I would like to argue that it does not-worth-it damage to the students who are evaluated as not gifted, I have nothing to back that up.) Yet it starts to matter when they get to my advanced math class, where suddenly they’re being pushed significantly harder and required to learn significantly faster than they’ve ever been asked to before (not my doing, it’s the curriculum). Suddenly they’re the 5th graders taking the 8th grade test in that study, and their whole lives they’ve only been complimented on being smart. They give up unbelievably quickly. They whine like toddlers when they don’t get something. They leave tests blank when the answer doesn’t come immediately to them. THEY DRIVE ME NUTS.
I blame it on the gifted label. Neither my special ed kids nor my really low IQ kids whine like that when they don’t get something, and they’ll at least try to put something on the paper. These gifted kids have gone through school being told they’re smarter than everyone else, but they’ve never been asked to work hard and never been given rewards or consequences for persevering or failing to do so. We haven’t taught them grit, because for some reason my district values a gifted label above all else.
I would love nothing more than to get rid of that test. Kids should get in to advanced classes because they work hard and find success, and they should not be put in advanced classes if they refuse to put in effort. Make them earn it, and leave it open for any kid at school (regardless of their score on one test) to earn. I don’t care if your kid is gifted, and neither will colleges or employers. I wish we could keep that in mind and get rid of that stupid label… it’s making smart kids lazy and that’s going to hurt their chances of success.
Of course, no one’s asking me. But keep this in mind if you’re a parent or a teacher, because I’d love if you’d start switching, “Wow, you’re smart!” for “Wow, you work hard!”