Intelligence is Irrelevant

This fall I attended an awesome professional learning day led by my coordinator Greta Lundgaard.  This day was spent teaching us about current brain research over mindset.  We took a survey to see where we fell on the spectrum between fixed and growth, and I was not surprised to see I definitely have a growth mindset now.  Google “mindset survey” and you can find documents and online surveys to assess your own mindset.

I spent an entire week setting the tone with my students last fall, and while I do not have that time this semester, I wanted to do something to set us on a positive path.  Thus, entire the mindset survey.

I began the class with my normal Tapa del Día, which randomly related perfectly (I have them all saved on PowerPoints and just change the dates year to year).  Then, I announced my new mantra: “Intelligence is Irrelevant.”  I gave the students time to Think-Pair-Share, and every class had different opinions/insights to this idea.  My 6th period in particular took the discussion to deeper levels than I had even contemplated.

Next, I introduced the idea of mindset and handed out the surveys.  The students took several minutes responding and scoring.  After learning where they fell on the spectrum, we discussed what exactly fixed and growth mindsets are, what research says about mindset and success, and how it is possible to change from a fixed to a growth mindset because mindsets are learned.

I followed up the mindset lesson with a quote about how a teacher answered the question “when will I ever use this?” that I read at my professional learning day.  So how did this guy respond?

* “‘Never.  You will never use this.’  Then he points out that people don’t lift weights so they’ll be prepared should, one day, somebody knock them over on the street and trap them under a barbell.  ‘You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your grandchildren without being sore the next day.  You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically, so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden or parent.  MATH IS MENTAL WEIGHT TRAINING.  It is a means to an end, (for most people), not an end in itself.'”

If I were a math teacher, I would have that hanging in my classroom.  As it is, I am fashioning my own version of this with regards to learning a language.  Stay tuned as I will share it on this blog once it gets done :).

We ended class with an exit card in which students wrote one thing they learned and why it resonated with them.  Here are some of the responses I received:

“I learned that intelligence is irrelevant.  Throughout a lot of my life I thought if I was smarter I would be better at school.  I am smart, I just have to try harder.”

“People with a growth mindset learn more.”

“I learned that we will probably never use what we learn in class, but that is not the point of learning.  The point of learning concepts is to make your brain always be ready to learn new material no matter what it is.”

“Keeping an open mind is good for learning.”

“I understood that what we learn doesn’t have to affect our lives directly to allow our understanding to grow.  It is the way it helps us to think that makes a difference.”

“Growth mindset people do better because they think they can.  Mind over matter.”

“This lesson really struck me. I should stop comparing myself to others and believing that intelligence is innate.  I need to work harder.”

“I learned that math is a means to an end.  It doesn’t matter if it is useless in and of itself; it still helps indirectly.”

So from now on, intelligence is irrelevant in my classroom.  It’s about hard work and never giving up.  There are no excuses, success is in our own hands.


*from Selections from Teaching that Sticks, Heath & Heath

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