The Little Engine that Could is an illustrated children's book that was first published in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The story is used to teach children the value of hard work and believing in one's self.  What we know intuitively about positive thinking and effort has been proven to be true by researcher Lisa Blackwell, PhD in a study of struggling New York City high school students (Blackwell, 2007).  Two matched groups participated in an 8-session workshop on study skills, time-management techniques, and memory strategies.  One of the student groups had an additional session on the brain and how the students could make their intelligence grow.  They were told that the brain is like a muscle; with challenge and effort, new neural connections are formed that make them smarter.  The students were amazed to learn that intellectual growth was possible and in their control.  As a result of this knowledge alone (when compared with the control group), math grades improved and teachers noticed a marked change in motivation.

The message?

- Believe in your child's (and your own) ability to grow.
- Communicate the fact that effort and challenge make us smarter by building the brain just like exercise builds muscle.
- Provide effort or "process" praise (praise for engagement, perseverance, use of strategies, improvement, etc.) rather than praise for ability, talent, or intelligence alone, which has been shown to be demotivating (more on that in the future...)

When our engines believe that they can tackle a tough climb,  they will get there!


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