How many of these kids walk our hallways? Those kids that no one ever told they were smart? Those students that come into our classrooms thinking that they are not smart, have never been, and will never be. Beaten down by lack of success in an overly rigid school system, having few academic successes and little curiosity left. Those students need to hear the word “smart.”
Research tells us that we shouldn’t use the word “smart,” that students instead should be heralded for their work ethic, their creative problem-solving skills and their perseverance. The evidence shows (simply stated) that if you tell a child repeatedly that they are smart they will take the easy way out, give up more easily and not like challenges. But those students that already have given up? Those students need to hear it over and over when they do have successes so that they can start believing it. So for those I make an exception.
I tell them they are smart when they conquer a math problem, when they raise their hand timidly at first but then more and more confidently. I tell them that they can do it, that they too know things when they grow, when they share. So that they can believe that they are worth something, that they are capable, that they are smart. And I don’t regret it, no matter what the research says, because later on we can work on the creative problem-solving skills and never giving up, but for now; they need to believe they are smart.