Read these two statements:
"You are so smart!"
"You worked so hard!"
Which one produces higher achievement? Which one is a self-fulfilling prophecy?
If you choose the latter, you are correct (and so smart!). Recent research from the Department of Brains v. Effort has concluded that the former statement produces far less, pound for pound, than the latter. In Carol Dweck's work on "mindsets," the first statement represents a "fixed" mindset, whereby
...people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.
In the second, a "growth" mindset,
...people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
What a great way to look at students in education! No, this is not the same school of thought that believes all students are gifted and proceeds accordingly; this theory (expanded upon here) takes all students where they are and looks to help them develop the traits of a growth mindset (remarkably similar to the 16 Habits of Mind, which are qualities that educated people cultivate to help them when they don't know the answer. This is an entire curriculum based on developing these - go, Vermont!), starting with four simple ways to change your mindset. The idea that everyone is capable of greatness, regardless of native intelligence, shouldn't be revolutionary, and if you talk to a school administrator, they will say that they live by that credo. In practice, though, the education machine proceeds quite differently; classes are leveled, kidsa re tracked and divided biologically, individuality is stifled in the name of The Test, and there is little time in the school day to cultivate the growth mindset.
Small changes, though, babysteps. Thinking about how we talk to kids about their work (statement #1 v. statement #2) is a great place to start; if we can look to persistence and hard work as harbingers of success, as opposed to test scores and IQ, imagine how much farther our kids could go! Empowering kids and parents can make a hige difference in this process, too, as noted in Time magazine: