How Can We Help Every Student Tap Their Inner Genius?
contributed by Zacc Dukowitz
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 an emphasis on mindset.
What is A ‘Genius 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. If nothing else, it will become harder to achieve. Self-talk, doubt, lack of action, and so on can all hinder intellectual growth. 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.
What Are The Characteristics of Genius?
More than anything else, genius is about the willingness to see and realize creative possibilities where others either can’t or choose not to. Genius requires one to reject convention in pursuit of something special. This means it results from a mix of intellectual capacity, creative thinking, mindset, and perseverance.
According to Time, “Albert Einstein…was slow in learning to speak as a child–so slow that his parents consulted a doctor. The family maid dubbed him “der Depperte,” the dopey one, and a relative referred to him as “almost backwards.” He also harbored a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one schoolmaster to send him packing and another to amuse history by declaring that he would never amount to much. These traits made Einstein the patron saint of distracted schoolkids everywhere.
But Einstein’s contempt for authority also led him to question received wisdom in ways that well-trained acolytes in the academy never contemplated. And his slow verbal development allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time,” Einstein once explained. “But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up.”
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Mindset can help explain why students break themselves off into groups, identifying themselves as ‘Math People’ or ‘Book 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.
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.
8 Strategies For Creating A Genius Mindset In Children
1. Model a ‘genius mindset’ for students
They need to see it in action on a daily basis. What does it look like? How does it respond to failures and opportunities?
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. Emphasize process
In mathematics, instead of focusing on correct answers, focus on the 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. Surround the student with different forms of genius
Genius begets genius. The more ‘looks’ genius has in their minds, the more of a chance they’ll be able to see themselves capable of it. This means different fields, different genders, races, historical periods, cultures, media forms, and so on.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Genius is a behavior, too
Genius isn’t only a mindset. It’s a set of behavioral codes and mindsets that are based on the everyday habits of contemporary geniuses. Students must reprogram themselves with these ‘abnormal,’ creative mindsets to begin to develop genius.
Most geniuses share a common personality pattern that’s distinctly different from those who are unoriginal and ordinary. A mindset characterized opinions instead of ideas–argumentative and opinionated and critical opinions cannot lead to genius.
7. Embrace ‘weird’
Normal people can reconnect to their genius if they adopt and practice these abnormal creative success mindsets of geniuses.
Genius is synonymous with abnormal. Failure is normal. Creativity and genius are often one and the same, but not always. Genius, as we’ve discussed, is first a willingness.
8. Risk tolerance
Remember how we said that Einstein or Warren Buffett seemed so different from regular people, but they’re not? Inherent in creativity is the idea of doing something different–which requires risk. And that’s okay. Risk tolerance is necessary to do something no one has done before.
*previously published at TeachThought.com