“I am stupid.”
Are these heartbreaking words something you’ve heard before from your kid? Some of the most heartbreaking words a parent can hear from their kid are “I am stupid.” How can you respond to these word without sounding like a dope yourself?
Just saying “No you are not stupid” is closer to a playground taunt than a productive way to guide your kid into feeling better and getting real work done. It is not a good method to get your kids to a positive, productive state of mind.
You might find them not actually saying the words out loud, but only acting as though they think they are stupid or just not able to “get it”. This is actually a more difficult problem, because you’ll have to figure out what they believe before you and your student can successfully deal with this unfortunate belief.
This is exactly where knowing the process for learning something even if you are stupid comes into play.
Step 1: Say out loud “I can always greatly change how smart I am.”
Most people think intelligence is a static, fixed amount of smarts. This belief is entirely wrong. It turns out there is a huge body of research which supports the idea you can change your how smart you are.
This is a basic fact which is highly related to how well individual kids do in school. Yet, most people would never imagine they can get smarter, and their kids are suffering for it.
The high achievers in school tend to believe they can change their intelligence. In fact, they believe “You can always greatly change how intelligent you are”. This belief becomes self-fulfilling – it empowers them to sit down and do the work required to learn new material.
It’s a positive cycle, and it’s one you can start right away by having your kid say “I can always change how smart I am”. I would recommend showing them the article above too – it’s extremely convincing, and full of links to studies showing the power of believing intelligence can be changed by effort.
Really, you and your kid should both say it a few times! It feels good to know you are in control of the situation – you can change in a positive way.
Your kid might be saying at this point: “But hey – I thought I was stupid!”. Remind him by saying, “Nope, that’s not how smarts work. People can make themselves smarter. You just didn’t know you could get smarter and more competent with effort. It’s ok – I didn’t know either. But let’s try this and see what happens. ”
There is much more you can do to ingrain this belief into your kid’s mind and heart. We give these techniques away in many posts on this blog and also in fine grain detail in our products. Getting started ASAP with just saying the words “I can always change how smart I am” aloud is a great first step.
Step 2: Break the big subject down into smaller, manageable topics or actions
Exactly how do good learners actually get better – how do they learn? Once they understand they can get smarter, what do they do to get smarter?
It turns out we know we know how they excel at learning. They break down what they are learning into manageable parts. They do not try to learn from the top down. They attack multiple small ideas, learn them, and then combine these smaller ideas into the big picture.
Begin the learning process by breaking down the topic into smaller parts you can learn quickly and easily. Usually, the smaller you can make the divisions the better, especially at first. Learning something, even something completely tiny about a topic, can and does give a sense of control. It is much easier to build on a tiny success then a bewildering large failure.
This isn’t to say these lessons do not take into account the general topic. Rather, these learners break down the topic into multiple subtopics and learn each of these subtopics well.
Step 3: Work at getting better at those individual small parts
The best learners have tremendous confidence when covering a topic, because they know they have mastered the details. They know they have mastered the little parts which make up the total topic because they have studied those little parts intently.
Learning some tiny task, or some small fact is so much easier then trying to learn all of a topic. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with a confusing topic.
It’s much easier to learn some tiny aspect of a confusing topic, and then learn another tiny aspect of that topic. Master several of these tiny aspects, and you’re part way to understanding a large block of this once confusing topic.
We’re going to break this down into four smaller substeps! That’s right – we are going to follow our own advice on how to learn to make this step even easier.
- Imitation: Imitate the correct method of doing the task. Don’t think about the big picture, or try to make up your own way to do the task. Just imitate.
- Slow it down: Go slowly at first, and take your time to get the steps right.
- Repeat: Repeat the task many times, focusing on getting the steps correct. Speed up only when you are confident you can go faster, and slow down again if you make mistakes.
- Learn to feel it: After you’ve done the task correctly a few times, try to “feel” it being correct. That feeling will guide you later when you are going more quickly, and then when you are putting all the little pieces together into a complete whole.
Step 4: Repeat
Didn’t we already talk about repetition in Step 3? Yes, we did! A quick reminder – Repeating involves actually repeating the steps – doing something over and over again!
We take our own advice here, and add some details on how to repeat things, so the repetitions are actually useful to learning.
Repeating is an under appreciated concept in learning. Repeating an activity is essential to forming experience and expertise. What people call “experience” and “expertise” is usually the result of doing an activity enough times to become familiar with the small details and variations that throw off performance.
The only way to gain a full appreciation of these variations is to do something enough times to experience them enough times to be able to deal with them when the crop up – as they always will.
You will see this frequently in math classes. Most grade school and high school math is easy enough to understand when explained once or twice. Yet, “understanding the concept” and “executing the problems correctly” are two entirely different processes.
What happens with many kids is they mistake “not being able to do the problems” with not “understanding the material”. Math has extremely specific rules which must be followed exactly in order to get the correct answer. A single mistake in any of the steps is enough to get an incorrect answer.
When kids do not repeatedly execute math problems in order to practice doing math, they are extremely likely to do any single step in problems incorrectly. Of course this results in an incorrect answer. The incorrect answer leads them to think they are bad at math – when the true issue was they were not repeating the process enough to learn it extremely well.
Typically, doing something once correctly is not enough to get it correct on a math test. So, repeat.
We’ve adapted these steps from a book on how people become masters at their craft, The Talent Code. We’ve found these same steps to be useful even if you just want to get better at studying.
You’ll see us going over these steps again and again, because we have found the repetition to be helpful!