Enough with the empty praise
Latest Posts • April 10, 2017
Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck enjoys a kind of cult status with educators and parents. Her research changed the way many adults praise children.
“I’m proud that you tried really hard,” or “I see how much effort you put into this,” is the “process-based praise” that many educators use with their students since Dweck first published her book “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success.”
She made it well known that kids who are praised for being smart tend to avoid challenging tasks. They become risk-adverse and focus their effort on tasks they’re already good at, thinking that if they have to work hard at something, it must mean they’re not smart. Kids who are praised for their efforts, on the other hand, try harder, for longer, and are more motivated.
These “effort” kids have a “growth mindset” believing they can grow through effort, struggle and failure; the “smart” ones have a “fixed mindset” believing their intelligence is fixed by genes and not malleable.
My summary of Dweck is incomplete here because I assume many of you are familiar with it already (I’ve also already written about it before – here, here and here.) And if not, just know that people with a growth mindset become more resilient and ultimately more successful.
But are teachers and parents actually putting this research to good use?
Not necessarily, according to Dweck. Years later, she realizes that many educators misunderstand or misapply her concepts. Phrases like ‘You’ve tried really hard,’ and ‘You can do anything if you try,’ are not enough when it comes to learning.
Praising effort alone, Dweck says, is useless when the child is still getting everything wrong and isn’t making progress.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic she explains:
“A lot of parents or teachers say praise the effort, not the outcome. I say [that’s] wrong: Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it. It’s not just effort, but strategy … so support the student in finding another strategy. Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success.”
“Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies. You want them to know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.”
So when a student is struggling, we can’t just praise the effort. According to Dweck, “the whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.”
In other words, effort is only praise-worthy when it actually leads to learning. Everything else is a sad consolation prize.
The Modern Music School teachers are well equipped to offer the right praise and the right learning strategies to their students, as the psychology of motivation and learning, learning methods, communication etc are exactly the subjects that are at the core of their teacher training.
We’re excited about the idea of helping our students develop a deep and lifelong joy of learning!
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