An experiment was conducted involving two groups of students: American and Chinese. The children were given an unsolvable math problem. The American students gave up early, while the Chinese students worked for over forty-five minutes, looking at the problem as an intriguing challenge. Are Chinese children smarter or more perseverant than American children in general or is something else going on?
Some parents and teachers in America tend to believe that ability trumps effort, and the language that is used reflects this thinking: “You are amazing!”, “You are so smart”, are definitive phrases of praise, yet, when students aren’t smart, great, or amazing, they don’t know what to do next to improve. It is if academic strength is a state of being, based on ability. You have it, or you don’t. “You’re not good at Y, and that’s okay.” Or, “Your dad and I aren’t good at math.” Instead of, “You did X well because you practiced. You can do better with Z.” This shift in language is something that’s actionable for parents and it’s hopeful for kids. If the language can be shifted to the student doing their own analysis of their work, and analyzing their improvement strategies for the future, it gives them power. Language is an influential force. Language that focuses on effort and encouraging kids to improve, to persevere with effort, helps to build grit and the desire to push through challenges, to work through problems even if the solution doesn’t come easily.