"The Effort Effect," an article by Marina Krakovsky about Carol Dweck, reports on current research on attribution theory, which is concerned with people’s judgments about the causes of events and behavior.
From the article: "Common sense suggests that ability inspires self-confidence. And it does for a while—so long as the going is easy. But setbacks change everything. Dweck realized—and, with colleague Elaine Elliott soon demonstrated—that the difference lay in the kids’ goals. 'The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,' Dweck says, and 'learning goals' inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than 'performance goals.'
Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor. Students with learning goals, on the other hand, take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn." (Krakovsky, in the Stanford Alumni Magazine, March/April 2007)
It looks like the most effective learners view intelligence as something they're working on--and often joyfully. The other way to view learning is as static concept: I got it, I'm done. The problem with that view is it's easily shattered, and doesn't take into account the resilience that required for ongoing learning, particularly learning in this age of extremely accelerated information flow.
Are you seeing this in your students? Are the learners who are doing best actually the "humblest" in some regard, not making declarations about how much they know, but instead just getting on (enthusiastically) with learning? What affect and attitudes do you see in rapidly-progressing learners?