These days, I’m into Ted Talks. They are often inspirational and enlightening.

I watched one recently on education by a psychology professor called Carol Dweck entitled “The power of believing that you can improve’’. 

She opens the talk with an example of a school where students, who hadn’t passed the exam weren’t marked with a ‘fail’ but were given the mark ‘not yet’.

This caught my attention. My immediate thought was: what was the difference? Passing is passing and failing is failing. How is the use of these two words relevant? Well, it turns out that the difference between them is important. The term ‘failed’ is negative and focuses purely on the present. It evokes feelings of lack of self-confidence, loss, and defeat; you feel like giving up. However, when using ‘not yet’, it suggests a path to the future, a goal that is possible to attain, over time.

A study has shown that there are two different student mindsets. The first is fixed, that means that the brain can only focus on the now rather than the future and that when faced with difficulty, it runs from it. There is no engagement and no activity. The second determines a brain that has the ability to change and transform. The student focuses on the future, therefore making room for effort and development. The brain engages deeply. It processes the error then proceeds to correct it. This is called a growth mindset. The brain science behind this got me even more intrigued.

The goal for kids with a closed mindset is to get validation and an A grade.  The highness of the mark is more important than the quality of it.  They need a good grade to feel successful.

Kids with a growth mindset use persistence and understand difficulty and challenges without losing heart.  Improvement is the feel good factor.  These kids become resilient, tenacious, and happier because they have real self-value. They are on the ‘Bridge to Yet’.

Professor Dweck asks ‘How can we build that Bridge to Yet?’  What we can do is praise. Don’t praise intelligence or talent but praise process, progress, and perseverance. We want to reward the effort instead of the result.

She says, “When educators create growth mindset classrooms, steeped in ‘Yet’, equality happens.’’ Indeed, Professor Dweck gives us a few examples. In a year, a kindergarten class in Harlem, NY scored in the 95 percentile on the national achievement test. In a year, 4th grade students in the south Bronx, who were way behind, became the first 4th grade class in the state of New York in the state math test.

The meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before they were to be feared, whereas, now they signify evolvement. 

It seems to me attitude not aptitude (with some understanding of Brain Science!) is a big part of education and life.

Poppy Nguyen Eastwood is a Grade 10 student at Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras