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There's research behind this too. The book NurtureShock has a chapter on telling kids "you're smart" vs. "you worked hard." There was even some HN discussion on it. Basically, when you attribute your kids accomplishments to their being smart, they kind of freeze up when they get a problem they can't handle. But when you attribute it to hard work, they work harder to figure it out. There are a series of fascinating experiments that bare this out.

For people into parenting books, I highly recommend NurtureShock. It's about the only parenting book I've found based on actual scientific research, as opposed to being somebody's opinion.




I learnt hard work the easy way.

Through Olympic weightlifting.

All through primary and secondary school, and through most of university, I have scraped by on brute intelligence and my efficient memory. Like a lot of HNers, I suspect. But that began to leave me behind. I failed algorithms. I jokingly said to my professor a year later "I'm not smart enough for algo".

"You're plenty smart", he said. "You just didn't do any work".

I took up Olympic-style weightlifting ("Oly" to friends) about 3 years ago. It taught me the most important lesson of my working and studying life:

You cannot cram for a competition.

No one training session makes for success on the platform. Success comes from months of work. A few hours, every day or two. Each session is hard, sure, but by itself does not seem like much. But the cumulative effect can be amazing.

By my third year in computer science I was becoming more methodical about studying. My scores improved and my professors accepted me for honours. Thanks to the learned ability to stick to a project for months on end, I completed my degree last year with first class honours.

I wish I'd known earlier that consistency, and not flashes of brilliance, is what would get people to think of me as truly capable.


I kind of hated this. I did pretty well in school. But the result never seemed to match the amount of effort I put in. I would be told "you worked hard" for something I didn't work hard on, or "you should work harder" for something that took me weeks to finish.


When someone would tell me I had worked hard on something, I would get embarassed and shut down. I'm not sure exactly why...

But I did react exactly like the NutureShock book mentions.

I'm feeling pangs in my chest just thinking of all the times I froze with a fear of failure when presented with even the slightest challenge. Or even worse, when I would brush something off as beneath me, since I was so smart. I didn't need to try.


I'm in high school right now and I agree with this a lot. It's not as much in high school, but in middle school, almost every assignment had an effort mark, and it always annoyed. I mean, how are they going to know how much effort I put in it? They could look at the quality of the final product, but a few times, I would screw up completely so I had to redo the whole thing and then what I handed in would not look as good. Obviously, there was some merit to the idea having an effort mark, as that would reward hard work, but it annoyed me personally.


It was kind of the opposite in college for me. I remember in one class, I got a B- on every single paper regardless of how much time I spent on it or how much planning I put into the paper. I got very discouraged and almost flunked out of two courses in my last semester. So I guess some amount of effort is required :)


Ya, effort is required for sure, but I think the papers should be marked according to categories that actually can be marked, such as grammar and spelling, factual correctness etc. There is still some subjectivity, but it's way more fair.


It's hard to grade a non-research paper that way though. For example, that class was a Humanities 101 class. We were supposed to do some analysis of whatever book we'd just read. So good grammar is not a large part of the grade, and factual correctness is not easy to check when you could "hit the stacks" and cross-reference any other books in the library. The teacher (who was good by the way, I'm blaming the system not him) would grade the paper based on how "good" he felt it was, based on your apparent understanding of the material, and your ability to think well and express your thoughts clearly.


There is also a lot of bias in this though. I have an interesting anecdote from this, one I'm not so proud of... For the first half of my writing 101 class I got a B-/C+ on every essay I wrote ~3-4. Then I took my girlfriends at the time "creative writing"/poem or whatever the assignment was and my teacher went bonkers about it thought it was better than sliced bread, tried to get me to take a creative writing class (which I milked and was like yaa i'll think about it). I wrote every paper after that and consistently got 95+ on them. Interestingly in the last paper one notable comment from her was "Your content is brilliant! your analysis of the book and your thoughts are the subject are amazing! however be careful with your sentence structure and grammer it detracts from the paper" I got a 97 on this and I put basically the same effort on this paper as I did in the beginning.

This is simple human bias if you expect something to be good it will be good, and has to do with how your teacher feels about you.


Ya, many of my English papers are graded on factors like thought and understanding, supporting evidence etc. While, these are still subjective, for these and the measures you were marked on, it much easier to explain what a five out of five, what a four out of five is etc. rather than say effort. But, ya, it's way harder to come with fair, objective criteria for Humanities papers. (At least it is for my experienced high school mind)


It's hard for everyone. He was one of the deans of a liberal arts college, and had had a paper published in Dickens Quarterly. So he really knew what he was talking about when it came to writing humanities papers. But in the discussion we had on grading, he admitted that there were very few rules. He would try just to be fair.


Your consistent B- grade was a measure of the class, not your work. Sorry that the world is so unfair, but humanities courses (particularly 101 level) are rife with this.

I once got an A in a philosophy course where I never even turned in any work. I think the teacher knew I was generally smart and argumentative, and just gave people marks accordingly.


Did you get data on how other students did? I received an A in a science/tech/policy class which I didn't do half the assignments for. Talking around a bit, everyone else I knew got an A as well.


I recall seeing a posted list that related student ID numbers to grades. I think I would remember if everyone got an A. Because I felt so guilty about that A that I did the assignments and turned them in, after the fact. The class was about morals and ethics, and the irony bothered me.

I wouldn't do that today, because I'm more aware of how irrelevant school is.


Donald Knuth experienced something similar.

http://www.webofstories.com/play/17068?o=MS (it starts around 2:37)


This is exactly what came to mind for me. To see Don Knuth say that he was afraid of failing is downright shocking... I would have thought he would have spent very little time thinking about classes and would have already been in a world of his own at that point.

One interesting happening I've noticed too is that with mathematical and computing knowledge specifically it seems that as people gain knowledge it becomes easier to add new knowledge. The curve seems exponential. It's easy to pick up Python if you're already familiar with C and C++. It's easy to understand a new comparison sorting algorithm if you know it can't be faster than O(n lg n) and can place it in perspective with merge and quicksort.

This is why I still go on Stack Overflow and am floored by how few questions I can answer and how much more experienced guys know than me. But I have hope that learning will beget faster learning.


I agree with you on everything you said. As for the SO, or anything in general (as far as learning is concerned), I guess the more you learn the more you realize how little you know...


This is hugely important. I don't remember where I ran across this idea (the "you're smart" vs "you worked hard") but it was a while ago and it explained a _lot_ about my life. Growing up I was always told "you're smart" instead of "you worked hard", and this left me vastly unprepared for situations where actual work is required (starting near the end of high school). By the time I was a sophomore in college I had already identified this problem, but it didn't stop me from flaking out most of my classes and eventually dropping out. Even today, I'm 26, with a great job working for an extremely influential tech company, and I'm still struggling with the motivational issues that started with "you're smart".


Do you have a link/paper ont his? Legitimately curious.


Scientific American had a great article on this in my Pinboard: "The Secret of Raising Smart Kids: Don't Tell Them They Are" http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-secret-...

EDIT: It looks like it's behind a semi-paywall. Here's a Googled PDF: http://www.ccsf.edu/Campuses/Downtown/scientific_american.pd...



Goto source is Carol Dweck; read Mindset for the general ideas and pick up Self-Theories for a in-depth look.


Apparently, the chapter of the book also appeared in New York magazine, although I can't find the reference so I don't know which issue.

You can always read some excerpts on Google Books or Amazon, it's chapter 1 of NurtureShock.


You can find the article here: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/


www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct07/vol65/num02/The-Perils-and-Promises-of-Praise.aspx

Includes references for further reading if so desired.




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