To praise or not to praise?

The ‘commonly advocated practice of praising students for their intelligence’ has been under review for some time; however, a number of educators are now getting serious about shifting the way they praise in order to enable students to develop a Growth Mindset.  Research conducted by Carol Dweck (2000) suggests that praising students for their intelligence may cause students to opt out of fruitful learning challenges.  Dweck found that when students were praised for intelligence, they sought out learning experiences that would ensure they continued to look smart and avoided more challenging experiences.  In addition, such students condemned their abilities in the face of failure or distorted their performance to impress others.  These findings have been explained by Dweck with reference to two theories of intelligence: intelligence as a fixed entity or trait versus intelligence as malleable.  The former theory suggests that intelligence is innate and cannot be changed; the latter theory suggests that intellectual ability can increase with effort and learning.  According to Dweck,  learners who adopt a fixed view of intelligence may adopt helpless learning patterns in which they doubt their ability to succeed once faced with difficulties (“I can’t do it!”).  On the other hand, learners who adopt the malleable view of intelligence are more likely to adopt mastery-oriented patterns of learning in which they monitor their performance and seek strategies to improve (“I will keep trying until I succeed!”).  Accordingly, the research suggests that praise should be focused on the effort the student has exerted and the strategies they have adopted rather than how ‘smart’ they are.

Reference: Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self-theories: their role in motivations, personality and development.  Psychology Press: New York (pp. 204; 116-132).

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