Can you remember a time, in school, when you raised your hand, sure about the answer, waiting impatiently to speak… but your answer was wrong? Or do you remember thinking you did a good test but then you got a bad mark?
I remember these situations very well, but most of all I remember the sensations of shame, of wanting to sink into the floor.
Yet, these have been and are still now the situations with the highest learning chances ever.
According to many studies on the topic, two are the main ingredients for true learning, which means remembering the lesson and growing also as human beings:
MISTAKES: researchers from the Williams College conducted a word-pair experiment in which people were cued with a word (say, tree) and then asked to pair it a related “target” word (say, oak). They found that they remembered the target word significantly better if they had made a wrong guess and were corrected than if they were simply given the correct pairing and asked to memorize it. The neurologic response to mistakes has been studied, too: researchers have found that this occurs well before you are even conscious of the error (50 milliseconds for the response, 500 milliseconds for the consciousness). As a consequence of these studies, some teachers in the USA have decided to take the grade off their test, so that the students may spend more time looking at what they got right and what they got wrong.
EFFORT: another essential ingredient in the learning process is the mindset. Carol Dweck, world-known Stanford University psychologist, lead many studies on the topic and was able to define two distinct “mindsets”: the belief that one’s intelligence is fixed or that it is fluid and can grow with effort. People with a fixed mindset (as measured on a standard questionnaire) tend to see errors as signs that they are not good at something. Those with a growth mindset see them as signs they need to work harder. One of the most famous studies by Carol Dweck has been conducted among more than 300 7th grade students with identical entry achievement test scores and lasted two years (the study focused not only on grades but also on mindset): by the end of the period, students with growth mindset outperformed those with fixed mindset.
I personally feel the need to add another fundamental ingredient to these two: parents mindset. Parents who praise effort more than grade, who encourage their children to take the risk of making mistakes, convey a crucial attitude to their sons, who in turn will have more self-esteem and will be more self-confident.