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How To Make Your Students Smarter

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Many students do poorly because they believe they’re incapable.

They’re just not good at school.

And it shows in their lack of enthusiasm toward learning. This in turn causes more failure, which further reinforces this belief.

It’s a never-ending cycle.

Tragically, most teachers make it worse by over-helping, repeating themselves, and dumbing down the material. They may talk about high expectations, but deep down don’t believe many of their students can reach them.

Without realizing it, their behavior all but screams: “You can’t do it!” It’s a message students receive loud and clear.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 1920s, psychologist and teacher Prescott Lecky conducted extensive research into academic success and self-image.

After thousands of experiments with children, he concluded that poor grades in school are nearly always related to a student’s self-concept (i.e. belief in their intelligence or learning ability).

His conclusions have been repeated many times over, most notably by researcher Robert Rosenthal. Now called the Rosenthal effect, it proves that the expectations of the teacher have a dramatic affect on the performance of students.

In other words, if you want to make a profound impact on your students and their academic achievement, you must believe they’re capable of excellence.

I wrote about this in my first book, Dream Class. I feel stronger about the power of this effect, and a teacher’s ability to tap into it, now than I did back then.

In order to make wholesale change in your students, in order to take them from rock bottom to shocking heights, you have to believe in your heart that they can get there. You have to know that they’ve been the product of the low expectations of others.

—Whether from parents, media, community, or other teachers.

They are not who they think they are, and you’re going to prove it to them. And how will you do that? Here are some ideas:

After a lesson, be reluctant to help.

Say often, “You don’t need me.” “You can do this.” “I believe in you.”

Stop coddling.

Extend independent work time.

Teach the whole class instead of individuals.

Have a sink or swim mentality. (They’ll swim if you let them.)

Raise standards and assume they can handle it.

Relentlessly push for more and more each day.

Don’t micromanage.

Be clear and detailed, then shift responsibility.

Accept no excuses.

Most of all, though, you have to believe. Some teachers will never get there. They feel their students are victims who need saving, “justice,” or creature comfort in order to learn.

This is a lie from the pit of Hades.

Unless a student has an intellectual disability, there is no reason for them not to succeed in school. Yes, they have mountains to climb. Some have trauma and tough home lives. Yes, yes, and yes. Agreed.

Although we’re always kind and understanding, and do whatever we can to help remove barriers, the worst thing you can do to them is lower the bar—for any reason.

Education is the way out, over, and through. I don’t mean via college, per se. I mean the ability to read, write, and communicate well, and the confidence to know they can learn anything, is a superpower they can take with them anywhere.

This is but one article. Many related topics, including the ideas above, have been covered extensively on this website and in our books. I encourage you to dig deeper. Use the Search bar at top. Peruse the archive at bottom right.

But just know this about making a difference as a teacher: It begins with you and how you see your students.

If you can make the switch from believing they’re at the mercy of circumstance to smart, capable people who have the power to succeed just as they are, despite it all, their lives will be transformed in nine months.

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