Beyond Smart

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When Tag returned home after his first full week of 4th grade, he flung his backpack on the ground and slumped onto the couch.  “I don’t think I’m smart enough for 4th grade.”

What? I sat next to him on the couch.

“My teacher told us he’s gonna keep making it more challenging and he’s gonna give us more and more responsibility.  I’m pretty sure I’m not smart enough for 4th grade.”

When did my kid decide smart was a status?  How did I miss instilling that all important

neuroplasticitylesson about the brain being shaped by hard work and grit?  I started replaying all of the conversations I had with my son where I called him smart or told him he could work it out because he was smart.   I guess he got the message.

Deliberate Practice

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he reminds us the people we often define as geniuses in their fields weren’t born that way.  Instead, he claims 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are largely responsible for their success.  While his argument has sparked some controversy, the basic premise is a powerful message for our own children and the children we teach.

Hattie echoes Gladwell’s thinking and further defines deliberate practice and persistence in the classroom (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012).

just practiceHe asserts all practice is not the same, and practice that leads to mastery often has similar qualities.  Deliberate practice:

  • establishes an understanding of the goals of practice
  • provides choice in practice tasks
  • varies in developing the skills
  • repeats practice with rapid formative feedback (p.108).  

This deliberate practice should lead to students learning to monitor, control, and regulate their own learning.


Persistence, or being able to concentrate on a task in spite of distractions, is the other required skill for learning, according to Hattie.  And, while novices learn better with fewer distractions, we need not remove their smart phones, iPads, and televisions to help them learn.  Instead, Hattie suggests the power of deliberately attempting to focus students on the task by designing tasks that are initially outside their range of dependable performance (p.110).


Some might equate feedback with praise (You’re a great student!), but Hattie warns praise might actually dilute the impact of meaningful feedback on task and product, process, and the ability to self-regulate (p.121).

Instead, teachers should aim to provide student feedback based on these questions (Hattie, 2012):

  • Where am I going?  What are my goals?
  • How am I going?  What progress is being made toward my goals?
  • Where to next?  What activities need to be undertaken next to make better progress?

Beyond Smart

Helping our children and students see beyond labels to the value of hard work is daunting but necessary.  “Smart” or “not-so smart,” these labels diminish the effect of our daily work, and they impact the mindset of our students.

Classrooms at KHS

How have you designed learning around the concepts of deliberate practice and persistence in your classrooms?

With your feedback, how do you help students determine where they are going, how they are going, and where they need to go next?