The paradox of bright girls, as outlined by Dweck (2000) is simply this: bright girls achieve highly in primary school (higher than boys and higher in all subjects); however, they are not necessarily high achievers in high school. Dweck found that this group is particularly vulnerable to adopting helpless responses to new and challenging tasks in high school. My personal experiences teaching girls support Dweck’s findings to some extent. I have observed students relishing the challenges posed by a new schooling environment; however, I have also observed students become exasperated and then give up if they do not succeed in their first semester of year 8. Such students conclude “I am not smart in this subject” and as a result are less likely to seek learning challenges, preferring instead to stick with ‘easy’ tasks and subjects and more likely to amplify their own failures.
It has been suggested that the early successes of ‘bright’ girls may be undermining their later success, since early success at school is likely to be met with praise from teachers and parents for their intelligence and ‘goodness’. Such praise may lead these girls to adopt a fixed view on their own intelligence, which may subsequently lead them to adopt a helpless pattern of learning if they are faced with initial failure, according to Dweck (2000). It is clear that encouraging students to adopt a malleable view of intelligence may in turn assist students in developing a mastery-oriented learning pattern (see my earlier post on this point).