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Attitudes Toward Intelligence

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

As a part of the CRLA Level II certification, I reviewed an article entitled “Longitudinal Changes in College Math Students’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence” by Rebecca Shively and Carey Ryan. As the title suggests, the article discusses the results of a survey of college math students regarding their attitudes toward the origin of intelligence. The two theories are the (1) entity theory and the (2) incremental theory. The entity theory describes the attitude that “intelligence is a fixed, unchangeable trait,” that is present in a predetermined amount. The incremental theory describes the attitude that “intelligence is malleable,” or that it can be increased by doing certain things.

The researchers asked 243 students in college algebra classes to rank the degree to which they agree with two different statements. The entity theory statement said, “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it,” while the incremental theory statement said, “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.” They also asked students to divide intelligence into two components, effort and ability, and assign percentages to each one. The researchers also asked students about their attitudes toward math intelligence to see if they differed from students’ attitudes toward general intelligence. The surveys were given at the beginning and end of a single semester. After the semester was over, the researchers compared the reported attitudes toward intelligence with the help-seeking activities of the students and their grades.

They found that attitudes toward general intelligence were more incremental than toward math intelligence. They also found that more students gave entity views of math intelligence toward the end of the semester than at the beginning of the semester and that this effect was less pronounced for general intelligence. They also found that students with more incremental attitudes had slightly higher course grades and were more likely to seek help (i.e. tutoring).

I was not surprised to see that many students in a rigorous math course had or adopted an entity view of math intelligence. I’ve heard the phrase, “I guess I’m just not a math person,” a number of

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times this semester. It makes sense students would adopt this view after struggling through a math class where they may have just found themselves struggling through this material.

The one finding that did surprise me was that students who reported seeking help had somewhat lower grades than other students. This is a bit disheartening to see that our efforts as tutors may not be as effective as we hope. But, there were a number of weaknesses in this study that may call this finding into question. First, only 61 of the 243 participants took the survey at both the beginning and end of the semester. Ninety-eight participants took the survey at the start of the semester and a different 84 students took the survey at the end of the semester. This left a rather small number of students that were actually tracked throughout the semester. Second, peer study groups may not have been considered by students to be “help-seeking” even though they may serve that function. As a result, their may have been more peer-to-peer help-seeking than was measured. Finally, they did not ask the help-seeking students the reasons why they sought help, why they sought help, or whether they thought the help was effective. Examining these things more closely may yield a more complete picture of the true effect of help-seeking and why these students received lower grades than others.

This article shows some of the results of our efforts as tutors. Although these results are a little disappointing, there is more information that can be gathered about this topic. In spite of this, I think of my own learning experiences involving help-seeking and recall how helpful they were. Sometimes students go as far as they can on their own and need a little help to get over a learning hurdle. Those are the times when I know I have helped students get to the next level of learning. Every time I doubt my effectiveness as a tutor, I think back to those times and give the student my best effort to help.

–Amy, MCTC Math and Chemistry Tutor


Works Cited

Shively, Rebecca L., Carey S. Ryan. “Longitudinal Changes In College Math Students’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence.” Social Psychology of Education 16 (2013): 241-256. Print.

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