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All About Attitude

Posted on: May 6th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

My name is Cassandra, and I am a writing and Spanish tutor at MCTC’s Learning Center. I completed the CRLA Level 1 training program in Fall 2014 semester, and am currently finishing the Level 2 program.

During the Level 2 training, we learned about many different types of roadblocks facing students. We also learned how to help students get over or around these roadblocks and back on the path to success. We were presented with academic writing about each week’s topic to help educate us about the problem, and then we discussed how it affected us as tutors and as students. The topic that most interested me was implicit theories of intelligence.

Implicit theories of intelligence are how students view their intelligence and how it can change. Many of us have said, “I am not a math person,” or, “I am just not a good writer.” This is called entity theory. Entity theory is described as the idea that intelligence is predetermined. If you believe in entity theory, you think that you are just not good at something, and no amount of hard work and effort will affect your progress. On the other hand, incremental theory is the belief that intelligence is gained by effort. Incremental theorists will focus more on effort than performance, while entity theorists will focus on performance and will put in little effort if they do not see positive results (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck 246).

There have been a few studies that seem to prove that incremental theorists perform better in school, and that entity theorists who are taught an incremental theory can turn their grades around. However, researchers Lisa Blackwell of Columbia University and Kali Trzesniewski and Carol Sorich Dweck of Stanford University found these studies lacking in a few places. The first was that these studies were only short term. No study had determined if the increase in grades after being taught incremental theory were maintained or if they returned to their previous state. Another shortcoming was that these studies had not looked for changes in the classroom atmosphere, specifically if the motivation of the students changed. Students who hold an incremental theory have a higher level of motivation than their entity theory counterparts, since entity theorists believe they cannot change their intelligence. Lastly, these studies did not compare teaching incremental theory to the class versus an academic intervention that taught incremental theory to underperforming students. Due to these constraints, researchers could not say whether students’ theories of intelligence affected their long-term performance, and if changing their theory could turn around a downward grade trend (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck 248). Blackwell, Trzesniewski and Dweck attempted to answer these questions in their paper, “Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention.”

In this study, the researchers followed incoming seventh graders in a mid-performing school in New York City. They followed them for two years. What they found was that students who had an incremental view of intelligence performed above average, while most with an entity view of intelligence had a downward trajectory. They also found the same results for those who had a high level of motivation over those who had little motivation. There was a positive correlation between having an incremental intelligence view and high motivation. An important result was that downward trending entity students who were given an intervention and taught an incremental view of intelligence were able to change their grade trajectory upward, and keep it upward. This is important because it proves that changing how students view their intelligence can change how they perform in the long run. It also means that it is important to locate these lower-motivated students early. The earlier their trajectory changes upward, the more likely they are to succeed in the future. The report points out that this is especially important for subjects like math, since new knowledge builds on previous knowledge.

Something that was surprising to me was the ability to change the trajectory of student grades by teaching them that their intelligence is not fixed. As a tutor, I see students who lose motivation throughout the semester, who believe that they just aren’t good at writing, or that they are too old to learn a foreign language. It is important that these students realize that their performance isn’t the most important. What is most important is that they are learning. Building connections in the brain when a student learns new material may take more time for some than others. Some students may have had a poor educational background. That doesn’t mean that they are not meant to be a good writer or fluent in Spanish. What it means is that they may have to try harder or in different ways. By teaching my students that they can grow, I can help give them the motivation they need to keep learning.

–Cassandra, MCTC Writing and Spanish Tutor


Works Cited

Blackwell, Lisa S., Kali H. Trzesniewski, and Carol Sorich Dweck. “Implicit Theories Of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across An Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study And An Intervention.” Child Development 78.1 (2007): 246-263. ERIC. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

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