Most children possess either a fixed or a malleable theory of intelligence. A child’s beliefs about intelligence have an enormous impact on his or her learning. According to Dweck (2007), some children believe that intelligence is a fixed trait and that they possess only a certain amount of it. This belief is known as the entity theory of intelligence. Other children believe that intellectual ability can change and grow with increased effort which is known as the incremental theory of intelligence. Each of these beliefs has a completely different effect on a child’s learning.
Research has shown that learning causes changes to the physical structure of the brain (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007). Helping students understand how the brain works and that intelligence is malleable can be effective at improving motivation and learning (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Mangels, Butterfield, Lamb, Good, & Dweck, 2006). This paper examines the previous research on the development, influences, and effects of children’s beliefs about learning.
Theories of Intelligence
According to Dweck & Leggett (1988) children possess different “theories” about the nature of intelligence. Some believe that intellectual ability is more of an unchangeable or a fixed entity. While others believe that intelligence as a malleable quality that can be developed. Research has shown that students of both theories showing equal intellectual ability, their beliefs about intelligence shape the way they respond to academic challenge.
Students who believe the entity theory tend to measure their ability and become excessively concerned with how smart they are (Dweck, 2007). They also only seek tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoid those that might not. Entity students tend to give up or withdraw effort if the outcome is negative. They are afraid of effort because having to put forth effort makes them feel dumb. They feel that if you have the ability, you should not need to put forth much effort.
The belief that ability can be developed through effort leads some students to believe in the more incremental theory toward challenging tasks that promote gaining skills and using effort to overcome difficulty (Dweck, 2007). When students feel they can develop their intelligence through effort and education they focus on doing just that. Not worrying about how smart others believe them to be, they can take on challenges and stay with them until the end.
As children mature, they begin to formulate goals for their learning. Dweck & Leggett (1988) say that those of the incremental belief (intelligence is malleable) focus on learning goals, or goals aimed at increasing ability. These individuals are concerned with increasing their competence through effort and education. Those of the entity mindset focus on performance goals or goals aimed at documenting their ability. These individuals tend to be concerned with gaining favorable...