Don’t Give Up! Fostering Your Child’s Academic Perseverance with Guest Dr. Pooneh Roney

About This Episode

In this episode of the Brainy Moms parenting podcast, Dr. Amy Moore and Teri Miller interview the dynamic Dr. Pooneh Roney about her research on academic perseverance and motivation with kids. Dr. Roney shares what traits are the biggest predictors of perseverance and school performance and then gives moms tips on how to teach kids to not give up.  She talks about ways to increase self-efficacy and promote a growth mindset. This is an episode packed full of wisdom and takeaways for educators and moms. 

About Dr. Pooneh Roney

Dr Pooneh Roney is an educator and educational researcher whose research interests lie in the field of academic motivation and perseverance. Pooneh started her career as a High School Math teacher, going on to become a school leader both in the UK and internationally. She has always been intrigued by the individual differences amongst her students that result in vastly different levels of academic engagement and performance. As a result, in 2009, she undertook a master’s degree in Mind, Brain & Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education to deepen her understanding of cognition, learning and teaching in light of the latest research in cognitive neuroscience.  Undertaking this course of study resulted in a paradigm shift in her thinking about education and in 2010 she founded the first BrainRx cognitive training center in the Middle East. Since then, she has pursued her PhD studies and research in the UK. Her latest research focuses on academic perseverance and motivation amongst adolescents. She also teaches at Department of Education at Brunel University, London.

Connect with Dr. Roney


Bonus Material

Want to hear the raw, unedited, and personal conversation between Dr. Amy and Teri immediately after recording this episode? Check out the video Brainy Moms Unplugged: Fostering Your Child’s Academic Perseverance or audio recording.

Read the transcript:

Don’t Give Up! Fostering Your Child’s Academic Perseverance
with Guest Dr. Pooneh Roney

Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore. I’m here with my co-host, Teri Miller, and we are coming to you today from sunny Colorado. We’re super excited to introduce you to our guest today, Dr. Pooneh Roney. Pooneh is an educator, researcher, cognitive trainer and global lead for BrainRx. She has a Master’s Degree in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She went on to earn a PhD in education in the UK. And in addition to being the global lead for BrainRx, she also teaches at the Department of Education and Brunel University in London. Her latest research focuses on academic perseverance and motivation among adolescents.

Teri Miller: And listeners. You’re going to love this. Just say hi for us, Pooneh.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Hi.

Teri Miller: Well, you don’t get much from that, but you’re going to love her accent. The listeners are going to love your accent. So I want to get you talking real quickly. Welcome Dr. Pooneh.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: All good.

Teri Miller: And so you have a really interesting story about going from a Master’s in Engineering to being a cognitive trainer and global education researcher and cognitive trainer. So tell us how that happened? Tell us your story?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: So I started my career, as you say correctly, I started with studying engineering at a university, but one of the things I found is that I actually like being with people, and engineering was kind of shutting me off a little bit in the room, doing a lot of calculations and things like that. And I didn’t really enjoy that aspect. So I went on to become a secondary math teacher. So that’s for you guys high school and middle school kind of rolled into one. So students around the age 11, go to secondary school in the UK. So I started teaching math to these students, and I absolutely loved this journey of transitioning from engineering into teaching and being with them.

But there were some really puzzling questions for me. For one, I was always really interested, having been really good at math and sort of gone into engineering, being around other people who are really good at math, I couldn’t understand what was the underlying reason so many of my students were really struggling with math. And then another question I was very, very, always sort of in the back of my mind, is that in the UK we split students into ability groups in math. So the most able students are kind of like what we call set one, they’re in a class together. And sort of the least able students are put in a class together.

And one of the things I noticed is that their ability to persevere did not really directly correlate with how able they were in terms of their mathematical ability. So there was kind of a disconnect there. So I had some of my brightest students who would get very easily discouraged and wanted to give up, whereas I have some students who really struggled, but they would just keep going. And I kind of wanted to also understand what was sort of the base of this, what was going on there?

And that kind of led me to Harvard to study the Mind, Brain, and Education course, looking at the cognitive neuroscience of learning, which then led me to find that it’s about all the cognitive training programs out there. And that’s when I, after looking at a lot of different programs that were available, I came across LearningRx, and ended up setting up a center in Dubai, which is where I was living at a time. The first sort of brain training center outside of U.S. offering LearningRx type programs for the international audience, called BrainRx. And that’s kind of been my journey.

Dr. Amy Moore: So talk to us a little bit about how you got into researching academic perseverance and what that initial research has looked like?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yeah, so one of the things we were noticing is that we would get students in our sense of what we were doing cognitive training with students. And they would undergo sort of this massive training that had a big bump in terms of their cognitive skills. And as they were going through this, there was a lot of failing and kind of having to go through a lot of challenge. But then every single day every student was seeing tiny bits of improvement. And this kind of was building these students to be a bit tougher, to be able to persevere more and stick with things. And a lot of them beforehand, when you spoke to parents would be quite ready to give up or struggle with academic work, didn’t want to stick with it.

But I was wondering, so as I said to you, I had noticed previously, it wasn’t just ability that was determining who was the type of person to stick with something or who would give up. So I kind of knew, it wasn’t just the fact that we were improving our students’ cognitive abilities that was helping them now to become better at perseverance, it was something else happening there and through our programs. So I started really trying to unpack some of the factors that helped us predict who’s going to persevere and who’s going to give up. And I tried to understand that. And I thought, “If I go down the path of researching and understanding that, hopefully I would get to a place where we can actually find out how we can bolster students’ ability to persevere and help them actually speak with stuff.” So that’s kind of that where my real interest in a study in perseverance began.

Teri Miller: Okay. Well, I’m wondering as a mom, from mom perspective, I mean, you’re talking about being able to predict perseverance in children, what are those predictors, what can I be looking for in my kids at home?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: I think that’s a really, really key question here, because as I said to you, so our cognitive ability is a really, really big predictor of success in academics, for example. So we know that that is one of the big things, but I wanted to sort of understand beyond those kinds of things, what are some of the key factors that are effective yet? After a number of different factors that I looked at, two things came out to be the two key predictors of perseverance amongst adolescents that I work with in my studies.

The first one is something that we call self-efficacy, and that is really a student’s ability to believe in being able to do something. So, if you believe you can do something, you have got high self-efficacy in that particular domain. What’s really special and different between self-efficacy and a lot of other things are the factors that we might be looking at, such as grit for example, is that self-efficacy is very domain specific. So it’s very, so I may have fantastic self-efficacy let’s say in mathematics, because that’s my kind of background, but I may have very low self-efficacy when it comes to art, which was something that I never really enjoyed that much. And it wasn’t, I didn’t have particularly positive experiences early on.

So the thing that was really interesting about self-efficacy here is that there was very low correlation between actual self-efficacy, let’s say mathematics, and student’s real ability in mathematics. So there was a big disconnect. So sometimes a student who was very, very able, student who had the right cognitive skills and sort of the right experience, they were very hard on themselves. And they actually, because they were comparing themselves to other high achieving peers, they always felt that they weren’t particularly good at math, their belief in their ability to do well in math was actually very, very low.

Whereas on the other hand, you have sometimes students who might be considered struggling students in math, who thought they were actually pretty good at it. What was really interesting is that our ability to persevere didn’t really get that affected by our actual ability, but more about our belief about that ability. And that was a really, really powerful thing to come across and to kind of understand. So, because I felt like that was something that we could manipulate and change more easily rather than a lot of other things about our ability in something.

And then the second factor that seems to have had an impact on it is what’s called a growth mindset. So having a growth mindset, we can kind of explore in more detail, was the second predictor. It had less of an impact on ability to persevere, but it was definitely a trait that I was able to see amongst our students. So when I asked my students to take part in the studies, we have specific questionnaires that we could give them to measure their self-efficacy in different domains, different activities that they were doing, and the same for their growth. Whether they had a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, and based on that I was able to predict their ability to persevere.

And by persevere here I’m looking at two things really. One was their ability to persevere day-to-day with specific tasks, like doing their homework or studying for an upcoming test or something like that, but also more the longer term aspirations that these students might have. So for example, deciding to choose to study mathematics beyond high school, beyond secondary school, or whether they wanted to go into a career that related to STEM or STEAM subjects. Because they had the confidence to continue with it. So it kind of was more of the short term of day-to-day things in terms of persevering, but also more the longer term aspirations.

Teri Miller: Okay. I’m writing tons of notes, for my own kids, as a mom. And I just, I want to clarify before we even move on to the next question. I want to kind of come back and clarify, self-efficacy. So what does that look like? I’m thinking about my different kids, because I mean, okay, I’ve got two high school boys and one of them is real quick to ask questions. He’s always the one, his teachers love him. He’ll answer stuff. He’ll raise his hand. He’s real interactive. But he often says, “Well, I’m not very smart.” Because he doesn’t necessarily get awesome grades and he’s more social than he is academic.

And then my other kiddo is my 15-year-old. So my 16 is my social guy. Teachers love him. My 15-year-old, teachers don’t notice him so much. I mean, he gets good grades. He finishes his work really well, does really well, gets good grades, but he doesn’t … Like self-efficacy I’m questioning. He doesn’t seem to have self-efficacy or perseverance. So tell me, what does that look like in practicality?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: So I think the way to think about it is the key thing about self-efficacy, which makes it quite different from a lot of other traits or measures that we use for predicting performance, whether it’s academic performance or perseverance and so forth, is the fact that it is very, very specific to every domain. And really there are the main, number one way a person develops their self-efficacy, there are a number of ways, but the key way, the one that has got the biggest impacts on our self-efficacy is what we call our our mastery experiences. Our experiences of success up to that point in that particular field.

So if you and I were to sort of unpack each of your sons and the different things that they do in their lives, you will find that there will be things that they are really, really excited about and persevere on. There’ll be areas that they wouldn’t persevere on at all, they just couldn’t be bothered with even. And their areas that they like, “If I have to, I had to push, I will go for it.” And all of that really goes back to their prediction of how successful they’re going to be in each of those kinds of tasks.

So for example, I’m giving myself as an example here. I am one of those people who doesn’t enjoy cooking that much. We cook all the time. We have dinner every time at home and all of that, especially during this last year, obviously you had no other options, there were no restaurants to go to, so you had to cook. But if someone was to ask me, “Are you a good cook?”

My self-efficacy is I’m not a good cook. Because I kind of have a repertoire that I go to, they’re my go-to things that I feel comfortable and confident in cooking. And I can cook them, but I kind of, I mean, they taste all right, I am happy with that, but I don’t think I’m an innovative cook or I haven’t got that confidence to go and come up with my own recipe or change things.

So my self-efficacy in cooking is not very, very high. And that’s probably because of the experiences that I previously had of trying to come up with a recipe of my own didn’t go as well. So my mastery experiences here are limited to things that I feel like I can do, I’m all right with, but it doesn’t set the world on fire. So that kind of. However, let’s say, I just take the example of lockdown, I decide, actually, I’m going to use this time where we are at home, I’m going to go and buy fresh ingredients. I’m going to really try to bring some of the things I love together. And if I keep cooking and experimenting and have really, really good positive experience, then challenging myself to do that.

Then I’m may actually I’m feeling, oh, I’m not that bad. I’m pretty good at this. I can throw a really nice dinner party and have a really good time. So it really goes back to our perception of prior experiences that we’ve had. So and I think that’s sort of the big things that, one of the big issues I have with grit for example, is that it’s kind of like doing the grit scale is supposed to guess if you’re a gritty person or if you’re not a gritty person. But I think that’s over simplifying the matter here hugely. Because nobody is gritty in every single thing they do. And nobody gives up in every single thing that they do. So there is a lot of different levels of complexity in terms of why we’re interested in what we’re interested in and why were happy to expend effort and energy pursuing something.

And I guess those are the things that I really started to look at when I was trying to think about, “Can we tweak this? Can we turn this up? And can we try and enhance students’ self-efficacy through interventions?” Because I think it’s understanding those that gives us a lot more leverage as parents and as educators in terms of empowering them to take charge. So I think, thinking about your sons, can you think of each of them and something that you think they would really persevere in? It could be a video game they’re playing. It could be some hobby or interest, but you would be able to think of something like that, but each of them separately?

Teri Miller: Yeah. Well, I mean, my kid that doesn’t really ask questions, teachers don’t really like him. I tend to think, my mind says he doesn’t have great self-efficacy in that area, because he doesn’t seek help or whatever, yet he’s a super good student. He made honor roll. And he literally, he made honor roll. They invited him to the ceremony.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Ceremony, yeah.

Teri Miller: And he was like, “I don’t want to go.” he doesn’t want to be with people, he’s introverted. And then he even held up his little certificate to his older sister that’s in college now. And he’s like, “What is this? What does this even mean?” And she’s like, “You made honor roll. This is great.” And it’s just, it’s like he doesn’t realize how smart he is. And then my kid that’s more social, he’s like, “Man, I worked so hard. I studied, I got an 82 on such and such test.” And so he seems to have all this perseverance and self-efficacy, but his top grade is like 80, you know? And that’s really interesting.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: That’s a bit like what we were saying there as well, so this is what we find in the UK by grouping kids by ability in math, which don’t even get me started on how wrong that is. By labeling children really young. And basically that has probably one of the biggest impact on student self-efficacy than anything else. By kind of taking them or forcing them and having a label, “You’re set one, so you’re brilliant. And you’re set nine, so you’re hopeless.” It doesn’t do a great job for motivating them and affecting their self-efficacy. So it’s a really, really big issue here, but that’s how things are done. But in the UK, one of the big things we noticed is when I first became a math teacher and people would meet me and say, “What do you do?” I used to say, “I’m a math teacher.”

And after about a month of doing that, I stopped saying, “I’m a math teacher.” I just say, “I’m a teacher.” Just because as soon as I said, “I’m a math teacher,” everyone said, “Oh, hey, math.” I used to say, “Oh my God, you won’t go to an English teacher or a history teacher.” And I say, “Oh, I hate history or I’m rubbish at it.”

But here in the UK, there is almost a slight sense of pride in really stinking at math, and people are quite happy to declare it. But I think that is really a symptom of this setting, that what we call setting, ability grouping that we have, because people are labeled quite early. And as a way of not feeling bad about being put in that label, people just kind of justify, “Oh, I’m just not a math person. I’m one of those. Don’t worry about it. And you know, I’m not going to get there.”

And that’s in itself is a really, really big challenge when it comes to dealing with people’s perceptions, because the longer they go on the harder it is to really permeate them and try to sort of break them and say, “Actually, that’s not the case. Your son might not realize how smart he actually is. But it’s really trying to get to it and kind of show him that you have had this amazing mastery experience of being on honor roll, which is kind of affirming that actually you are really, really good academical, and you have to.” And the more of those kinds of experiences we have, it’s like we are collecting evidence through our life and we are kind of putting them in the back of our mind, not necessarily thinking about them, but they are forming this perception we have. And that’s why I think this show is really, really important for moms. Because there’s a lot of different actions parents and teachers can take that can really impact students’ self-belief and their ability to tackle specific tasks.

Dr. Amy Moore: Let’s hear some more about that. That was going to be my next question to you. A, why is it important in today’s world that we have kids that are able to persevere, but then what can moms and teachers do to move that along?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yes. So I think the main thing I would say about the timing of it now, it’s that why now we are living in a very distracted world where there are a lot of different things buying for our attention and our time. So it’s so easy if you’re bored to reach out for your cell phone or to look on Facebook or to look on something else. And that could really take you off rail and derail the project that you were supposed to be engaged in with right now. So I would say right now, compared to even when we were at school, it’s much harder for students to stick with one particular thing and be dedicated to it and not be distracted by a 1,000 other things that are going on. But more importantly, when we have looked at faxes that predict things like academic perseverance, so academic performance, things like ability to get jobs with higher pay and complete college sort of get a good degree, In the UK we’ve got classifications for degrees. So, like a top honors degree in the UK is achieved more by people who’ve got high levels of perseverance than people who don’t. People who have got high levels of perseverance are more likely to earn significantly more than their peers. And that’s after controlling for things like cognitive ability.

So after we kind of even the field they were in, we can see that perseverance is actually really, really important in predicting our success. And not just life, and they’ve even looked at things like marriage lasting. So a marriage is not ending in divorce. So it kind of actually have a fundamental impact on our happiness and satisfaction with what we have, if you’re able to stick with things. And there’s a famous saying by Einstein as where he says. “It’s not that I am smarter than everyone. It’s just that I stick with problems for far longer than anybody else.” Because a lot of other people might engage with that same problem, find it challenging and give up and leave.

But it’s really trying to bring this back and say, “Okay then, if we know it’s really that important, what are some of the things that we can do to try to impact it?” So, as part of my research, I had a three-year project where I did five different studies, and the first four studies were really trying to unpack factors that were predictors of perseverance and adolescence. And in the last one I actually tried to do a 20 minutes psychoeducational intervention with the students, and see if that had an impact on their ability to persevere in mathematics. So as we said, self-efficacy is domain specifics. Any kind of intervention we do cannot be general. And that’s one of the reasons why having a growth mindset had an impact on perseverance, but that impact was far less than self-efficacy. Because growth mindset is kind of slightly more generalized then if you like self-efficacy is.

So here, what I did in one of this, the last study that I did is that I created this intervention where students were put in one of three particular groups. The first group were given a task, which was a spacial puzzle that they had to solve. And it was a fairly straight forward puzzle. So that’s kind of the group I call the success group, because the likelihood of them succeeding at it was very, very high. So I wanted to know if they just take part in this and I gave them kind of a cover story if you like. So I said that there’s been a lot of research that has shown that people who succeed in this particular puzzle are going to go on to be great mathematicians. So, this is kind of a big predictor of their math ability. So that’s kind of the cover story that they all had.

And then it was a second group where they were given the same puzzle, but it was made more challenging by not giving them some of the clues along the way for putting it together.

And then there was a third group where they were given the same pieces of spacial puzzle. And then we just said to them, “Why don’t you put them together and create something fun that you like, and you can give it a name.” So something creative, it doesn’t have to be any particular rules or anything like that. So we just wanted to know if the manipulation of those same puzzle pieces was having an impact on any kind of changes in self-efficacy before and after the task. And I got the students to do a behavioral task where they had to do a series of mathematical questions beforehand, and then they had to do very similar types of questions after to try and see if they were sticking with those questions, as well as giving them the self-efficacy questionnaire prior and after.

A lot of the big things that came out is that the group that had the more challenging puzzle, the challenge group, ended up having the biggest bump in their self-efficacy. But also they were the ones who went on to actually persevere more, way more. They did on average one and a half more questions in the post-test than it did in a pre-test out of 10 questions. So that was quite a significant number of increase. So what this kind of showed is that actually just being successful in something doesn’t really do that much in terms of boosting our confidence. And this is a mistake sometimes educators make, and sometimes parents as well, you know, we give something fairly easy to a child, and as soon as they’ve done it, because they might find a subject hard or something hard about what they’re doing, and then we give them a lot of praise and say, “Oh, well done, you did a really, really great job.”

And in fact, some studies say that if we are doing that, and the student has perceived that the task that it did was fairly straightforward and easy, that could impact on a dip in self-efficacy. Instead of increasing it, they might actually say, “Oh, they think I’m a real idiot, and that’s why they gave me this easy puzzle or easy whatever tasks to do.”

So the key thing that had an impact was challenge. But I think the other thing to say about the challenge was that I had specific clues that a students could ask for if they chose they needed, as they were engaging with a challenging task. And that’s what became kind of formerly called scaffolding. But it’s basically creating an environment which is totally safe where a student or your child feels like they can ask for support and help, and they don’t see any negative sides to it. They don’t see the help as being a sign of weakness or, the fact that you can’t work independently, if you like. So that has to be packaged very, very carefully. So the student knows the support is there and they’re scaffolding there to help them succeed.

But that it’s not in a way where we are saying, “It’s there because you are not coping with this.” So that’s a really, really important aspect of it. And what we found is that the people, the students who just had the pieces the were playing around with, there was virtually no change between their self-efficacy pre and post. And in terms of the number of questions they engage with. They actually engaged with less questions the second time, maybe because of feeling bored or whatever, they couldn’t be bothered to do that much more. So in fact, we didn’t really see any positive results from that. So what this tells us is that we need to focus on creating positive experiences where children can experience success, but they also are experiencing the challenge, the pain, if you like. And they feel like, “This is not super straightforward, I’m having to work hard at it. It’s not just happening for me.”

And when they’re going through that kind of an experience, they’re far more likely to persevere in future. As I said, the last study that I carried out, it had about 150 students enrolled in it. And it was one-to-one, the sort of intervention was one to one, but it was only a 20 minutes intervention. And the goal of it was really to highlight the fact that we can manipulate students’ self-efficacy and perseverance as we saw in that sort of task they got into. And that’s something that’s really, really huge for parents to take away. So even though we may have had students who have years of believing, they were very bad at math, with a very quick intervention, we could try to do it. So in a way, the way parents can approach this is just say, “How can we create those kinds of experiences, mastery experiences for our children on a regular basis to top this up, if you like, so that’d we are continuously building on their self-efficacy?”

So that’s kind of a really, really big thing to sort of take away. And I think the other thing I would say is about a lot of it is about our attitudes as parents and educators to things like grades. Because if we are putting a lot of focus and attention on grades, on why they’re so important and why we want students to achieve things, that can have a negative impact, because students who have got, for example, are taking the math example in the UK, who are in those higher sets where, they are deemed as really, really smart. When we are working with students like that, you might find that if they’re going into a challenging upcoming test, let’s say, or a big examination or something like that, and they’re feeling quite stressed about not doing as well as others, what the impact of something like that might be is that if you’ve made grades really important, parents are saying, “Oh, I want you to get a 100% in this test, or the straight A’s or whatever,” the students are too worried about the grades.

And if they’re nervous that they might not necessarily get a 100%, they might get 95, they might get 80 or whatever it might be, they might actually say, “Hmm, I don’t want to do this anymore.” It might have a negative impact on say, “I’m not that bothered about this test. In fact, I’m not going to persevere with my studies. I’m not going to persevere with the revision that I need to do for this exam.” Why? Because that way I can blame not doing well to lack of effort, rather than lack of intelligence.

So this kind of brings us a little bit to that growth mindset, fixed mindset thing. So that basically these two mindsets that we generally fall into is believing that intelligence is malleable and can be enhanced, or believing intelligence is fixed and you’re stuck with it. And we find that actually some of our highest achievers are the ones who’ve got a fixed mindset. Because they’re so worried about that persona of being a high achiever, being challenged, that they’re kind of really worried about it. And that really impacts a lot of their behaviors and their fear of failure and the fear of sort of engaging in things, because they don’t want to be seen as poor performance if you like. So they like to blame it on other things.

Dr. Amy Moore: Wow. So what I’m hearing you say is, even though they may be the ones that are getting really good grades, it’s impacting them in a social, emotional ways as well. And of course, then that’s going to translate through a lifetime of, of struggle in those areas. Yes,.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Absolutely. And I think, there’ve been quite a lot of different studies that have looked at this. And there is for example, they have found if you look at Asian Americans, a lot of Asian Americans who actually have sometimes higher IQ, and higher cognitive skills than maybe their other sort of peers in the same company, when a job comes up, quite often Asian Americans choose not to apply for a promotion. And a huge part of that is that they have grown up in a culture that has valued high performance, and the performance has been equated. For example, to pass your piano exam and reaching certain levels or getting an A, or, always being high performing students.

What happens is that when they get to those situations, were they’ve got to, for example, themselves on the line, go and apply for a job for an interview, whilst they might have a lot of the skills that their peers already have, or even exceed some of those, they choose not to apply for those promotions, because they’re worried that, “If I put myself there and I’m turned down, that’s kind of is effecting this persona, this perception of myself that I have created. And carefully kind of curated if you like.” So yes, so the lasting impacts of a lot of these things really, it can affect all aspects of our lives, not just the academics and it goes far beyond that.

So I think one of the big, big things I would say to parents is, “Really, we need to shift our attention from talking a lot about grades, to talking a lot more about learning, and what have you learned today?” So that’d be a really good question to ask someone when they come home, rather than, “Oh, what did you get on your test?”

And I think so many times, there’s been a lot of studies that have looked at that growth mindset and fixed mindset, and given educators some tests to say, “What do you think do you have? Do you believe that intelligence is malleable, we can increase it with effort and hard work, or do you think it’s fixed and there’s nothing we can do about it.” And almost all parents and all educators say, “No, no, no. I really believe it’s malleable, is something you can do about, something you can change.”

But when it comes to actions, their actions don’t necessarily support that. So, and this is what we call a false mindset. When we falsely declare something that our actions are not well aligned with. So we might have a mom who says, “No, no, I definitely have a growth mindset.” But as soon as their child does badly on a test, they might be saying, “Oh, why did you do that? And why didn’t you study harder? What didn’t you improve in this?” And they’re putting so much emphasis on the grade rather than, “What did you actually learn? Or if you’ve not done well on this, instead of focusing on the grade, let’s look at the paper and see where your mistakes are and let’s try to fix those.”

So it’s a lot of it’s about shifting our attention from the grades to the process of learning. And sort of emphasizing that journey, rather than the destination, if you like. And it is a pretty hard thing to live by. So a lot of us want to say, “We can do that,” but actually the actions sometimes don’t work.

So when I was in fourth grade, my parents, I moved to a new school and I had this teacher who somehow really adored me, she really made me feel very special and being always this to say, “Oh, you’re so smart and all of that.” And all of a sudden I became obsessed with my grades. I just wanted her to think the best. So I was just studying all the time and I really cared if I had got A’s or anything less.

So my parents sat me down and said, “Pooneh if you bring a report card, which has all A’s this year, this term, you will not get a bike. You need to have at least a B or a C in there. And if it’s all perfect, no bike.” And I was desperate because I had just grown too tall for my last bike. I really needed another bike. And I had seen the bike I wanted. So they took me shopping for this bike. We’ve went looking at it. I walked around it like 10 times. I was admiring this bike so much. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s my bike.” And they said, “This is the deal. You understand? We care about if you are learning, we don’t care about your grades.”

Teri Miller: Sounds [crosstalk 00:35:20].

Dr. Pooneh Roney: My mom was a teacher, so she very much wanted to sort of walk the talk if you like. So I came home and I was like, “Yeah, I’m definitely going to get a B or a C.” But then when I would go to school and I see my teacher on how she looked at me, how she thought I was so special, look, I had to get an A. Anyways, I had a report card which was full of A’s, and my parents did not buy me that bike. And they said, “Tough, that’s how it is.”

But that was quite an amazing lesson for me. And something that stuck with me all these years as a teacher is really, really trying to make sure that what you say is really what you believe in and aligning those two things and kind of making sure you don’t diverge. So if a child is trying something and they’re failing at it, like learning to ride their bike, we persevere, we show them it’s okay. We know everybody screws up at the beginning of learning to drive or ride a bike or learn to swim. At the beginning we know those struggles are real and we very much celebrate them. But somehow when it comes to academics, we have this kind of idea of effortless genius.

We want to see a swan. We want all of the legs might be going on underneath, like your son you say, it might be like that, but we don’t want to see it. We want this elegance exterior. And I think that’s also a wrong thing to show students and our children to say to them, “Actually, everybody struggles with it. And it’s absolutely fine to screw up or not to find things easy.” And giving stories, for example, from your own childhood when you struggled with an academic subject and how you went about dealing with that are really, really powerful. So there’ve been quite a lot of studies that have looked at, how does sharing those kinds of struggles impact children.

And in fact, one study looked at, asking children for advice. So for example, a dad had to go and make a PowerPoint presentation to the board in his company. He was really, really nervous and he was also a researcher, but basically he ended up saying to his kids, ‘I’m really nervous about this. And I’ve practiced it or whatever.” And his daughters came around him and said, “Okay, let’s just go over this. Why don’t you tell it to us?” And they were only little, they were early elementary school kids, but by just sitting with him and going through it they managed to calm him down. And what he found is that they were actually much better. And in future, when there were situations with him where they were telling him, “I’m nervous about something, or I don’t think I’m particularly good at this. I’m scared of this test.” He could kind of bring that in.

And since then he went on to do a study, looking at what happens when we ask for advice from our children in things that they might be having anxieties about. So we kind of noticed that they are feeling anxious about making a presentation let’s say, or about an upcoming test. And then you try to kind of look in your life something that you could ask their advice about. And what they found is that that had a really, really positive impact on their self-efficacy and mindset when they felt, “Oh, even daddy, even mummy, even grownups have these same situations.” Whereas others say, “Sometimes we want to be the perfect swan and not show everyone all of the struggle that’s going on underneath.” And actually that is supposed to be one of the big things that impacts children and their beliefs about themselves and who they should be.

Dr. Amy Moore: Oh, that’s beautiful.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: We do need to take a quick break though and hear a word from our sponsor.

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Dr. Amy Moore: And we’re back, talking with Dr. Pooneh Roney, educator, researcher, cognitive trainer, and global lead for BrainRx. And I want to switch course here and let you talk a little bit about BrainRx.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: As I said to you, I came across BrainRx after doing my master’s at Harvard. I became, one of my projects became quite focused on cognitive training and looking at how we could bolster and boost intelligence and cognitive skills amongst the students that I was teaching previously. So I was really interested in what can be done, so for one of my projects I started looking at all of the different types of cognitive training programs out there, and really, really being quite systematic and analyzing them, looking at the impact of the data that was out there and looking at what they were telling you about what can be done to help students.

What was really unique about BrainRx, which is same kinds of programs that LearningRx offers, it was the fact that it was looking at a whole child. So, for example, I came across programs like Fast ForWord, which were looking at, they were initially designed for language learning in PAT students, and they were looking at auditory processing in students who were really struggling with, for example, aspects of their reading and language development.

And that was great, but I kind of knew that, if you look at a child, they maybe having specific struggles that stand out, but also there are all sorts of other skills that are being ignored there if you’re just focusing on improving [inaudible 00:41:56] a student’s auditory processing without noticing what their attention is like, or without thinking about how to help a student’s skills when it comes to their memory. If they can’t remember things, then that’s going to have a knock-on effect on their auditory processing. So, and I look at free time things like Cogmed, which looking at improving visual working memory and impacts of that on things like attention and executive function.

So I looked at loads and loads of things, and by chance I came across LearningRx and later on BrainRx, where we looked at actually starting with a cognitive test for a student to tell us about their unique profile and trying to understand what are the challenges they’re facing. And trying to match the experience they’re having with what we understand about cognitive skills, and then trying to offer them personalized training to address those needs.

And we first started training our first student in Dubai, at the time I was living in Dubai in 2011, January 2011, but in a very, very short amount of time we felt so excited by seeing a lot of the changes in her. She is obviously the one that you remember forever and ever, because she’s the first one. Because even when, whatever you do in terms of research, until you see the impact yourself, you don’t necessarily believe it. And with McKenzie it was definitely just seeing those first weeks, the changes in her, the changes in confidence, as well as her ability to do her homework independently, her wanting to participate in things. So she started playing, for example, tic-tac-toe in the car with her mom and her younger sister, who was always better academically, and she was beating their arses all the time.

Teri Miller: Nice.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: And they were really, really surprised at how in a short amount of time, this child who was a little bit withdrawn, not necessarily flourishing at school is all of a sudden changing. And then, thousands of students later, we are still offering BrainRx in Dubai, which was the first sort of big center outside of U.S. And now there are over 94 licensees around the world who are offering BrainRx in all sorts of countries, all the way from Australia to Santiago, Chile. So the impact of the program is really, really amazing. And I think one of the things that we were not necessarily sure, when we started seeing a lot of different centers and different cultures start to offer the program, is how it was going to be embraced and how it was going to fit with a different lifestyle, the different educational system, different parental beliefs and so forth.

But I think results speak for themselves. And I think the fact that a lot, all of our licensees are real passionate individuals who are really committed to changing the lives and the results they’re delivering in their communities are completely unique. There are no other programs that can compete with the program, BrainRx programs that we’ve got. That has been one of the nicest things to see, and it’s been really, really a privilege to see so many different people make such a difference in their communities.

Dr. Amy Moore: And so, how would people find out about BrainRx if they’re living around the world?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yeah. So, as we said, we’ve got licensees in pretty much every single continent in loads of different countries, BrainRx training is available in so many different languages now as well. So it’s a really, really global and multinational endeavor. So the best thing to do is to go to and you can find out information on how whether, first of all, if you’ve got a child that you are thinking may have cognitive weaknesses that you want to address, let’s say they’ve not got great concentration, or maybe they’re struggling with aspects of their memory or reading, anything like that, that they may be struggling with. If you’ve got a child and you want to know, first of all if there is a BrainRx center, go to the find a center page, and you can find out about our centers and approach them.

But you find the world is a really, really huge place, and there are a lot of places where we don’t have centers as yet, and we are looking for wonderful, passionate people who want to bring the program to their communities. A lot of our licensees started because they were seeking help for their one child and they didn’t have the program available in their own country. And that’s one of the beauties of BrainRx is that the license fee is quite low compared to almost all the other franchises that are out there. And one of the things that it can do is majority of our licensees are actually first-time business owners. So you don’t need to be an expert in running a successful business. We cover every single aspects of setting up a center, and we provide you with all sorts of support with things like advertising and marketing the program and finding the right staff, training the right staff, monitoring the quality of training to get the right results.

So all of those kinds of things you’re supported with. So in fact, a lot of our licensees around the world are very lucky to get this kind of support. But most importantly, we are a brilliant community of interconnected centers around the world that every licensee supports other licensees. They’re very open. We get together once a year at least, except for last year when we got together virtually. So you have, you’re good, big party animals and love being together, but also people continue being connected. So via WhatsApp group, Facebook groups, where we can support each other. So if you go to, you can find out about where our centers are, but more importantly about how you can set up your own center. And by filling the contact form, you will receive an info kit that tells you about all of the steps required in becoming a licensee, what the cost are. And also other said about the level of support that would be there to help you take the passion that you’ve got and turn it into a sustainable and successful business.

Dr. Amy Moore: Nice. Yeah, fantastic.

Teri Miller: Well hey, we are getting close to out of time, but before we go, we have an interesting question we like to ask all of our Brainy Mom guests. So what’s your favorite product or indulgence that you’re enjoying right now?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: I’m a bit of an addict to Audible. So Audible is on my phone and anytime, I’ve just recently got a puppy as well, so he’s now six months old, so he’s going on a lot of walks. And anytime I’m going for a walk or even doing the ironing or housework or whatever it might be, I put Audible on, half the time I listen to fiction, which is like, I love listening to literary fiction. So that’s kind of my nice indulgence, and I’m cooking, as you know, I’m not that great a cook. So I may be listening to that to try sort of entice myself to continue with the cooking and not give up. And the other half of the time I’m listening to either business books or books about the brain. So, just trying to learn all the time. So for me, this is like the best product I have.

Teri Miller: Nice.

Dr. Amy Moore: And I think you said you feel most alive when you’re learning?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yes, absolutely. I’m a lifelong learner. All of my friends, when I got my PhD, they just said, “When are you going to stop? Isn’t it now?” Of course not.

Teri Miller: Tell us a favorite, not like maybe the favorite, but a favorite fiction book or two.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Okay. So there was one that I really, really loved that kind of stayed with me forever. It’s called The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, and it’s a book set in India and it’s just so delicate and really, really very visual. Like you can feel everything she’s describing really, really well. And you feel like you’re connecting with people that you have no idea about their life, but she makes them really, really vivid and strong in my mind. So yeah, I think that’s very poetic book.

Teri Miller: What was the author? What was the author again? The God of Small Things?

Dr. Pooneh Roney: She’s called Arundhati Roy. So it’s a hard name.

Teri Miller: That’s okay. Hey, we can Google it. Okay.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Yeah, and she is an activist who stands for women’s rights and also transgender rights. And she looks at also supporting people from the different caste systems and so forth. So she is a real powerful activist for equal opportunities for all.

Dr. Amy Moore: Excellent. Well, we are out of time and need to wrap up, but this has been a fantastic conversation. And I just want to thank our guest today, Dr. Pooneh Roney, for sharing all of this amazing research and insight. If you’d like to connect with her or learn more about the BrainRx program, you can visit and we will put her social media handles in the show notes.

Thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts-

Teri Miller: Thumbs up.

Dr. Amy Moore: … or any of your podcast platforms. If you would rather watch us, we are also on YouTube. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, @TheBrainyMoms. And you can follow me @Dr_AmyMoore. So look, until next time, we know you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Teri Miller: See ya.

Dr. Pooneh Roney: Thank you. Take care.


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