“Leo, I really like the way that you rearranged those pieces when you saw that your circuit wasn’t working. Great problem-solving!”
“Kaitlyn, I like the way that you figured out that math problem using geo blocks. That was a creative strategy!”
“Samir, I noticed that you never gave up even though this assignment was challenging. I’m proud of you!”
Walk into any classroom, and you’re likely to hear teachers praising students. It’s in our nature to want to encourage students and promote that feeling of success that results in a beaming smile and cultivates a learning environment that values effort and process. But how can we structure our praise in a way that not only celebrates success, but also recognizes the skills that got us there? And how can our praise encourage students to keep going when the success doesn’t come quite so easily?
Much has been written lately about praise and the growth mindset. Consider Carol Dweck’s definition of a growth mindset from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:
In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
When students have a growth mindset, they are more invested in their learning efforts and develop self-efficacy and resilience, skills which are important in all facets of life. As educators we recognize the impact of formative feedback and praise as a valuable tool for developing a growth mindset that allows our students to sustain their efforts—even when faced with challenges or setbacks.
Consider the differences between these two types of feedback:
|Person-Praise (Fixed Mindset)||Process-Praise (Growth Mindset)|
|Great job! You must be good at this.||Great job! You must have worked really hard.|
|See, you are good at English. You got an A on your last test.||You really studied for your English test and your improvement shows it.|
|You got it! I told you that you were smart.||I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.|
|You are such a good student!||I love the way you stayed at your desk, you kept your concentration, and you kept on working. That’s great!|
When praise focuses on effort, process, and thinking skills, our students can begin to see themselves as capable of doing more. Kathy Dyer explains:
For some, praise focuses on effort. If that is where the growth mindset conversation starts and stops, it seems incomplete. Effort is so much more. It is about having a variety of strategies and tools to use to problem solve. James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” We talk about building more inquiry into our learning experiences. How can we develop metacognition and teach our students to problem solve if we don’t equip them with tools to help them figure out what worked, what didn’t and what they can do about it? As Dweck said, “[growth mindset] is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.” How can students grow and learn more when we aren’t doing the same?
What do you do to build a growth mindset with your students? Engage with your colleagues and reply to the discussion below.