How frequently do we praise our students for their effort? And how often do we praise their intelligence? There is an important distinction between these two, and doing both can have surprising impacts on students.
Carol Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and is the author of the 2008 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. I first came across this book in 2013 when I began working towards a Masters degree in the field of education, and I thoroughly recommend that all teachers read it at some point. Dweck teases out the ideas of growth mindsets and fixed mindsets and how they impact achievement. One very pleasing aspect of this book is that it is nothing like those awful “believe it and you’ll achieve it” self-help handbooks. Dweck’s research is rigorously scientific and her conclusions are expertly drawn out.
An important point made by Dweck is the difference between praising effort and praising intelligence. Even before publishing “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Dweck argued, in an interview with Education World, that “contrary to popular opinion, praising intelligence backfires by making students overly concerned with how smart they are and overly vulnerable to failure. … teachers should help students value effort. Too many students think effort is only for the inept. Yet sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement.” Through the praising of effort rather than intelligence, students can be helped to develop a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. They may grow to view challenging activities as exciting opportunities rather than potential pitfalls.
With this in mind, take some time to think about what you praise students for. Do they get a “Well done, Johnny!” for getting 10/10 in a spellings test? Or do they get a “Well done, Mary!” for improving on last week’s score through increased effort? Also take the time to look at how you’ve set up your ClassDojo behaviours. Perhaps it’s time to add in something about effort and show its importance by increasing its weight.