The wrong kind of praise creates self-defeating behavior. The right kind motivates students to learn.
I was introduced to this article by Carol S. Dweck during a recent professional development session, and it really made me rethink the way I praise students. Basically, the article says that there are two ways to praise. We can praise students for being smart, or we can praise them for their effort. Through research and practice, it has been found that the students who think intelligence is just something we’re born with and can’t be changed are less likely to push through challenges. On the other hand, students who believe knowledge is not fixed and can be molded through hard work and diligent effort tend to push through challenges and have more success.
So, as teachers we can greatly influence a student’s mindset simply by the way we praise them. If we praise students simply for being smart, then it’s possible and even likely that they will begin to take the fixed intelligence approach. However, if we praise students for effort, then it’s likely that they will have the opposite mindset. In the end, what we think is encouragement may in fact be hurting the students we praise.
This article hit close to home for me in a couple ways. First, I’ve always thought that kids needed to hear that they are smart, and I’ve praised many students for being just that. I thought it would make them feel good and also motivate them to push further in their studies. It just seemed natural. In addition, I have personal experience with these mindsets in my days as a student. I’ve always been the type that just figured if I was smart, then I would succeed in school. If I wasn’t smart in certain areas, then I wouldn’t succeed. That’s just the way it was. Sure enough, when I encountered my first challenges in high school, I hit a wall and basically gave up. I felt like there was no use pushing further because I just didn’t have what it takes to be able to understand the material.
After reading this article, a lot of my experiences are starting to make sense, and it has also led me to analyze other people I know. I’ve thought about some of the most successful people I’ve met, and almost all of them are the types who enjoy a challenge. They don’t let setbacks stop them from pursuing mastery of what they’re learning. These people never believe that anything is too far out of reach to shoot for, and there are no fixed intelligence barriers that prevent further learning. I want my students to be the same way. Adjusting my strategies for praise may be the jump start they need.