Praise the Performance or Praise the Effort?

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I was recently introduced to the work of Dr. Carolyn Dweck, professor at Stanford University and author of the book Mindsets. In her book, Dr. Dweck describes two types of people, those with a growth mindset and those with a fixed mindset. An individual with a fixed mindset characteristically sees intelligence as static. They are afraid to try new things for fear of failing. A person with a growth mindset sees intelligence as something that can be nurtured and developed. They are more willing to take chances and see failure as a means for opportunity. This short youtube clip sums up the characteristics of each type nicely. Watch the video

As I dug deeper into the concept of mindset and Dr. Dweck’s work, I discovered that the way in which we praise can have a positive or negative affect on the development of a student’s mindset. Dr. Dweck found that students who were praised for their performance were much less likely than students who were praised for their effort to take on challenges and risks. To see and hear for yourself, watch this three minute video clip.  It highlights some of the research in action. Watch the video

Being in the field of special education for fifteen years, my mind immediately considered the implications of this research for students with disabilities.  Students with disabilities are some of our most vulnerable children and are often left to feel that they aren’t smart enough or good enough because they may struggle with learning new things, making friends, or monitoring their behavior. I thought about the types and levels of praise that this group of students experiences during the school day. I thought about how they would define success. I thought about the students whom I have seen that have given up. I thought about the messages that the media gives to students in terms of the learning standards that are too hard or unattainable for certain groups of students. I wondered how many students have thought, “See, nobody else thinks I can do it either”.

Then I started to think of the possibilities that praising the effort of students with disabilities could hold: “Your attention to detail in this narrative made me feel like I was in the room with your characters”. I thought of the vocabulary: “I liked how you persevered through that difficult task”. I thought of the opportunity to identify positive character traits: “You are a conscientious worker.” “Whenever I look at your work I know that you have taken the time to do your best”. “As your teacher, I truly appreciate that and so will your boss when you are in the work force.” And finally, I thought of the self-esteem that could be nurtured: “You are a critical thinker that will serve you well when you reach college”.

So, I invite you to consider the possibilities. Think of how you can reframe your praise to foster the development of a growth mindset and make a kid’s day…week…year…life.

Janel Payette

3 thoughts on “Praise the Performance or Praise the Effort?

  1. Pingback: Welcoming in 2014 | The East Side Monday Focus

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