What kind of PRAISE should we give to our children & students?

Recently I have been studying a free, online course titled How to Learn Math by professor Jo Boaler from Standford University. It has been really GREAT - I have really enjoyed it and learned a lot.

I would recommend you also take it, if you have the time!

But, I am also planning to write about the things I'm learning... in order to help all of us become better teachers.

The first thing - and this comes straight from NEUROSCIENCE research - is about PRAISE.

The stunning result is that praising children for being SMART or intelligent HINDERS them!

Instead, we should praise them (somewhat sparingly) for their effort and hard work, but NOT for being good/smart/great/intelligent.

The way it works is this: when you praise a child for being smart, that child comes to BELIEVE it is smart. Then, later on, when a task or problem comes along (and it will!) where the child struggles and cannot do it easily, the child will start shying away from such tasks... for FEAR of being found as "not smart" -- either that others will find that out, or self will find that out.

It is producing what the scientists call "a fixed mindset" - a mindset that believes intelligence is fixed and not changing. But, it is a mindset that HINDERS brain growth AND the growth of one's intelligence. A person with a fixed mindset avoids challenges.

And, this "fixed mindset" can already created in the first 3 years of life... as parents, daycare workers, relatives, and so on praise the baby/child for being "smart."

Instead, we should strive for a "growth mindset", and to see difficult tasks as OPPORTUNITIES for growth. With effort, you can LEARN, and actually grow your brain!
synapse - brain growth

Here's something I found amazing: each time you make a mistake in math and realize it, your BRAIN makes a new synapse (connection between neurons). I don't mean a simple calculation mistake, but a mistake in the actual ideas of math.

Then, when you THINK about your mistake and try to overcome it... there is MORE brain growth... MORE synapses!

They have also found that people with growth mindset experience MORE brain growth from mistakes than people with fixed mindset.

See this video by Carol Dweck, where children were first given easy puzzles, and they were praised in two different ways (praised for being smart or praised for effort). The researchers then observed the difference in the children's attitudes when they were given much harder puzzles to solve.

And you can read another, short article on the same lines: The Praise Puzzle: How To Motivate Kids To Be Successful

Lastly, a quote from an interview with Carol Dweck. She uses the term "mastery-oriented" to mean the "growth mindset".

Teachers should focus on students' efforts and not on their abilities. When students succeed, teachers should praise their efforts or their strategies, not their intelligence. (Contrary to popular opinion, praising intelligence backfires by making students overly concerned with how smart they are and overly vulnerable to failure.)

When students fail, teachers should also give feedback about effort or strategies -- what the student did wrong and what he or she could do now. We have shown that this is a key ingredient in creating mastery-oriented students.

In other words, 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.

In a related vein, teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. Rather than praising students for doing well on easy tasks, they should convey that doing easy tasks is a waste of time. They should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.


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