When we praise intelligence, by saying things like, “Wow! You are so smart!” we are praising the person, which sends a fixed mindset message. However, if we say things like, “Wow! You worked so hard at that!” we are praising the process and sending a growth mindset message. With a fixed mindset, children believe that their abilities are immutable, so there is nothing that the child can change. Whereas if they hold a growth mindset, they believe that they can develop their intelligence or abilities through effort, persistence, or trying multiple strategies. So, if a child doesn’t do well on a test but they endorse a growth mindset, they could say to themselves, “This doesn’t reflect how smart I am. Next time I could study harder.” With this mindset, there is something that the child can do or change.
Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate by Carol Dweck (4 pages)
This article discusses what teachers could say to students to send messages that motivate based on current research. Praising students’ process (their hard work, strategies, focus, and persistence) and tying it to their performance, learning, or progress could promote a growth mindset. But in many teachers’ practice, it has become divorced from any learning. “Great effort” is the consolation prize for children who aren’t learning. There is a difference between offering praise just for trying versus offering praise for learning. When we react with anxiety to children’s struggles or setbacks we are not displaying a growth mindset. We need a learning reaction—“What did you do?” “What could you differently next time?” Parents and teachers can emphasize that your brain grows stronger when you use it and can emphasize the power of “yet”—I’m not good at that yet.
Process praise encourages effort, strategies or action. Person praise is positive but implies that the child possesses a fixed quality, (“You’re so smart”). Catch yourself using different types of praise; what do you notice about the praise you use in your teaching?
Watch a video
The Effect of Praise on Mindsets
This short video features Stanford professor Carol Dweck explaining the results of her research, and introducing the concepts of “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” She discusses the role of praise in influencing children’s mindsets about learning.