Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Praise Students for Their Effort, Not Their Talent

Now that our students' RCM exam results are starting to come in and we celebrate their achievements with them, let's be mindful of how we congratulate our students. There's a difference between praising our students for their identity as talented people and praising them for putting in the effort to achieve things. 

Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success writes about an experiment she undertook to give two groups of kids IQ-related questions. One group was praised for their ability and the other was praised for their effort. The result:

Both groups were exactly equal to begin with. But right after the praise, they began to differ. As we feared, the ability praise rushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn't want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent (p. 72). 

More telling:

Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students' IQs. And that praising their effort raised them (p. 73).

 Anne-Laure Le Cunff in her article about The Praise Paradox goes into more detail about types of praise:

Praise can be defined based on two criteria: what is being praised, and how much it is being praised. We can praise someone’s abilities (“You are so talented!”), or we can praise their efforts (“You must have worked so hard!”). We can give appropriate praise (“You did very well this time!”) or inflated praise (“This is your best work ever!”). Each type of praise will have a different impact on someone’s self-esteem and future motivation levels.

Anne-Laure defines three types of praise that will enable students to continue working hard in the future:

  1. Define the value we want to teach
  2. Replace flattery with encouragement
  3. Focus on effort rather than ability 
So when you're celebrating how well your students have done, bear in mind that the best way to positively reinforce their success is to comment on how hard they've worked, rather than mention any abilities. Because in the long run it's the hard workers who win out. 

(Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

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