Praising a student’s effort rather than her innate abilities has long been seen as a way of promoting a “growth mindset,” a currently trendy term in the jargon-filled world of education.
New research, however, suggests that praise may backfire, at least when it comes to middle- and high-school students.
What is a “growth mindset?” Stanford University education professor Carol Dweck, who coined the phrase, defines it as an attribute of “students who believe their intelligence can be developed” as opposed to being an innate, fixed attribute.
The new research, as described in Education Week, finds that some educators practice and promote a “false growth mindset,” by doing nothing more than praising effort. That alone won’t promote a “growth mindset,” researchers said.
Praising process rather than innate ability must “include students’ effort, but also the successful strategies they use,” because otherwise the praise rings hollow and can be seen as “phony” by naturally skeptical adolescents.
In other words, promote a “growth mindset” by praising effort, but add specifics about what that effort entailed, and the approach the student used. Students should be prompted to reflect on their learning, and their mistakes, as a way of promoting a sense of confidence in themselves as learners.
That, after all, is what a “growth mindset” really is: confidence that thoughtful effort will lead to results.