are said to have one of two main classes of beliefs: entity theories and incremental theories (Dweck, 1989; Dweck and Elliot, 1983; Dweck and Leggett, 1988). Children with entity theories believe that intelligence is a fixed property of individuals; children with incremental theories believe that intelligence is malleable (see also Resnick and Nelson-LeGall, 1998). Children who are entity theorists tend to hold performance goals in learning situations: they strive to perform well or appear to perform well, attain positive judgments of their competence, and avoid assessments. They avoid challenges that will reflect them in poor light. They show little persistence in the face of failure. Their aim is to perform well. In contrast, children who are incremental theorists have learning goals: they believe that intelligence can be improved by effort and will. They regard their own increasing competence as their goal. They seek challenges and show high persistence. It is clear that children’s theories about learning affect how they learn and how they think about learning. Although most children probably fall on the continuum between the two theories and may simultaneously be incremental theorists in mathematics and entity theorists in art, the motivational factors affect their persistence, learning goals, sense of failure, and striving for success. Teachers can guide children to a more healthy conceptualization of their learning potential if they understand the beliefs that children bring to school.

Self-Directed and Other-Directed Learning

Just as children are often self-directed learners in privileged domains, such as those of language and physical causality, young children exhibit a strong desire to apply themselves in intentional learning situations. They also learn in situations where there is no external pressure to improve and no feedback or reward other than pure satisfaction—sometimes called achievement or competence motivation (White, 1959; Yarrow and Messer, 1983; Dichter-Blancher et al., 1997). Children are both problem solvers and problem generators; they not only attempt to solve problems presented to them, but they also seek and create novel challenges. An adult struggling to solve a crossword puzzle has much in common with a young child trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Why do they bother? It seems that humans have a need to solve problems; see Box 4.4. One of the challenges of schools is to build on children’s motivation to explore, succeed, understand (Piaget, 1978) and harness it in the service of learning.


Along with children’s natural curiosity and their persistence as self-motivated learners, what they learn during their first 4 or 5 years is not learned

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