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5 Strategies For Creating A Genius Mindset In Students

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da-vinci-schematics How Can We Help Every Student Tap Their Inner Genius?

by Zacc Dukowitz, Learnbop.com

When we hear the word genius, certain people come immediately to mind—Albert Einstein in mathematics, or Warren Buffett in investing—but what exactly sets these people apart?

It’s easy to simply shrug and say to ourselves, “Those people are just different.  They have something most people don’t, and it’s as simple as that.”

But the steps taken to arrive at a place of genius are actually more concrete, and have less to do with innate talent, than you might think.

When it comes to cultivating intelligence, mindset is a huge factor. Research from top cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience labs is demonstrating that fundamental aspects of intelligence, and even intelligence itself, can be altered through training.

  • A study of preschoolers by Diamond, Barnett, Thomas, and Munro (2007) showed an increase in executive control through a low-cost training regime of giving children experience with tasks involving inhibition of responding.

  • A study of adult working memory by Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Perrig (2008) showed a significantly higher “fluid intelligence” (ability to reason and solve new problems) through emphasis on mindset.

What is “Mindset”?

Mindset refers to the beliefs you have about yourself and your basic qualities. If you don’t believe you can be a genius, then you may not be able to become one. But if you open your mind to the possibility, then your future becomes an unwritten book.

Crucial opportunities for the application of good mindset habits occur in the classroom every day. Students who aren’t encouraged to change their fundamental beliefs about their own abilities may never progress in subject areas that they don’t already feel inclined toward.

And students who are—well, they may in fact be better positioned to become the next Einstein.

einstein-life-lessonsThe Characteristics of Genius

Mindset can help explain why students break themselves off into groups, identifying themselves as Math People or English People.  If students are pushed to change their view of themselves and their own basic qualities, every one of them can learn how to become a good student—of all subjects, and not just the type of subject that they feel naturally inclined toward studying.

This quality of openness and curiosity is generally present in most people we would call geniuses.

Consider Leonardo Da Vinci, who was an artist, an engineer, an inventor, and, above all, a brilliant thinker. Da Vinci’s curiosity was the driving force behind all of the things he accomplished. The specific skills he needed, such as the ability to draw or paint, or the ability to think in mathematical terms, were all developed by him out of a mindset that he could do these things—and needed to—in order to investigate the world in the way that he wanted.

Shifting Mindset

A fixed mindset describes the student who believes he or she can only ever be good at one subject. “I’m just not a math person,” you hear some young people say, and shrug as if the issue has been decided.

A growth mindset describes a state where the student believes he or she is capable of learning.  The student may acknowledge that the material is difficult or challenging, but this does not make it impossible. In fact, the challenge may make the task of mastering the material that much more rewarding.

5 Strategies For Creating A Genius Mindset In Children

1) Change your Own Mindset

Struggling students can either be viewed with a fixed mindset, as simply stuck forever with an understanding that is sub-par—or, they can be viewed as a welcome challenge, and an opportunity for you to hone your teaching skills, and them to hone their learning skills.

2) Change the Emphasis

In mathematics, instead of focusing on correct answers, focus on correct process. If students are learning and following the correct process, then they will eventually also produce the correct answers. A good automated tutoring program can help by honing in on the exact step a student struggles with when attempting a challenging problem.

3) Value Mistakes

No has ever learned something valuable without making mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen, and they are actually part of the process of learning. Encourage students to see their mistakes as one of many steps toward mastery.

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4) Encourage Perseverance

Students often need practice in hard work. Model the many steps it might take to master a concept or skill by talking them through it, and emphasizing the work itself as valuable over the final outcome of mastery. After all, the skill does not come without all of the practice and instruction that gets you there.

Perseverance is also one of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. MP1 states that students should “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”

5) Praise The Process, Not The Person

Remember how we said that Einstein or Warren Buffett seemed so different from regular people, but they’re not?

The same applies with your students—instead of pointing out individual students who are doing well, and praising them as if they are innately “good at math,” point out the process those successful students used to find the answer. By highlighting the process over the person, other students can see a path toward accomplishing the same goals, and move away from believing that those students are doing well because, well, they’re just “Math People.”

Cultivating Intelligence & Talent Webinar

If you need in-depth information and assistance for cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom, attend LearnBop’s free webinar for Connected Educators Month entitled “Cultivating Intelligence and Talent through a Growth Mindset,” led by Presidential Award Winner Cindy Bryant. Cindy is a former member of the NCTM Board of Directors, and has decades of experience in teaching mathematics.

Image attribution dumblittlemancom and historical genius leonardodavinci; 5 Strategies For Creating A Genius Mindset In Students

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I am highly opposed to your comment about teaching processes. It does NOT support a growth mindset.

In fact, I got so crazy about it, I wrote this post in response: http://mathfour.com/cognition/teaching-processes-destroys-a-growth-mindset

Please know that thinking is the habit of someone with a growth mindset – not memorizing steps!

Zacc Dukowitz

Dear Bon, We completely agree with you–good learning never comes from memorizing steps, but from providing students with an opportunity to think for themselves, and a safe place to do it in. I think the misunderstanding arose from our use of the word process, which we mean here in a way different from simply memorizing steps in a rote manner. What we mean by process in the above article is actually twofold: 1) In general, the entire experience of acquiring a new skill or understanding is something that can be called a learning process. Failure is part of this process… Read more »

Michele Brennan

Sounds like Visual Arts Education Pedagogy to me!


I am a teacher. Pupils are very small to me. Working with them is difficult., But I love it and enjoy it.
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I agree with you about all these steps to help motivate students. Changing the emphasis is something that I have never really though about. Focusing on what kind of similar mistakes the students make preventing them to get the right answer rather than just what is correct and not correct. Also something I have never really thought about was praising the process of how the student does something. I still think you should encourage the student by praising them for doing something correct as well.