Monday, June 20, 2011

Get smart.

{You are about to be warned}
Warning: This post has a lot of words.
{You have been warned.}

Today, I want to share something I learned in school.

I hear you gasping.

I've been in grad school for two years now, and I've never ever shared something I've learned (not that I can remember, anyway.)

But I learned about something today that I thought was really interesting, and applies just as much to parenting as it does to teaching (which, actually, a lot of my degree work has). So I thought I'd share, just in case anyone is interested.

It's called growth mindset, and it has to do with how we praise our kids and how that praise can affect them.

(If you're totally bored already, go away. Seriously, I'm not going to force you to read this and I'll never know if you choose to or not. No harm, no foul. Come back tomorrow. Bye!)

So here's the scenario (based on an actual study): you're in a classroom. You break the kids up into two groups. You give each group the same task to complete. It's fairly easy and they all perform well on it.

To Group 1, you say something like: "Wow! You did really great on this! You must be really smart!"

To Group 2, you say something like: "Wow! You did really great on this! You must have worked really hard!"

Not a huge difference, right? Well....let's talk about each group individually.

Group 1 thinks they're really smart. When asked about the task, they say that they really enjoyed it and want to take more work home and show their parents.

THEN they are given a new task that isn't super easy. They struggle with it quite a bit more than they did with the first task and get more problems wrong. When asked about this task, they say they didn't like it at all, they don't want to take more work home to practice, and that they don't think they're smart anymore.

They are also asked to write about this second, hard task (including their actual "score" on it), so that this write-up can be sent to another anonymous student. More than 40% of Group 1 flat out lies about their score, saying it was much higher than it actually was.

THEN they're given a new task on the same level of difficulty as the first task (easy). They do not do nearly as well on this one as they did on the first easy task.

Group 2 thinks they performed well on the task because they worked hard on it. When asked about the task, they also say that they really enjoyed it and want to take more work home and show their parents.

THEN Group 2 gets the harder task. They too find it much more challenging and perform much worse on it. However, when they are asked about this task, they say they still liked it and are still eager to take more work home, practice, and show their parents. Unlike the first group, they don't think they're dumb after "failing" at the second task, and think that they could learn to do the second task well with some practice. Only a few Group 2 students exaggerate their scores when asked to share them with someone else.

THEN Group 2 gets the third task (the easy stuff). They perform better than they did the first time.

The point here is to praise the process, not the ability.

If you praise a kid's intelligence, they'll accept your praise. They'll believe that they're "smart." It'll be great...until there's something they can't do (which, hello, is going to happen). It'll lead to them being anxious and stressed, frequently worried about proving that they are "smart." And when they can't do something, they'll think they're not smart anymore. They won't like learning, they'll like "being smart." They also think intelligence is an innate ability that cannot be built or enhanced - no matter what they do. AND they are more likely to cheat or lie to try to make sure that are always seen as smart.

If, on the other hand, you praise the kid's process - how hard he/she worked and the effort he/she put into the work - they will learn that you can work hard to make something happen. They will be more willing to try new tasks. They will develop the idea that intelligence can be developed and enhanced through effort. Ultimately, this is more likely to create a happy child (and a successful one) because that child will be motivated to work hard and to love learning.

This is the theory, anyway.

It makes a lot of sense to me, although I'd also say you have to make sure that you stay focused on teaching what needs to be taught as well. You wouldn't say "Hey, you put that 2+2=5! I like the hard work you put into figuring that out." So I guess I should say that when praise is appropriate, you should praise effort and not intelligence.

So what do you think of this, since you've made it this far? Good for you, by the way, for making it all the way through. I give you a cyber-pat on the back.


  1. it is amazing how a mind works. i learned about this briefly while working with a kindergarten class, and it really is true.

  2. Why thank you. It makes me think. It makes sense. I wish I could use this more with my online kiddos. I have to praise them for something but all I want to do is tear up their essays and tell them to capitalize the word I and use spell check!

  3. This is also something I learned in school-and put it into use in my classroom. I struggle when parents ask me if their child is smart or not-because there is so much for to it, than just being smart. I had a girl in my class this last year-that was brilliant, she had the ability to think on a much higher level than most of the students....but just like you stated, she had in her head that she was smart and when something knew came along, she was really frustrated because she thought she should just know how to do it. She hadn't ever really put a lot of effort into anything-and she didn't really know how when something new, harder, came a long this year. Luckily, I had been taught this principle and was able to put it to use.

  4. 4th line much MORE to it.

  5. I use this ALL the time with my kids. "Wow, you must have worked so hard!" or "Wow, you really practiced a lot to be so good at that!" I'm a total believer.

  6. I do agree! Such good advice. I remember my Home and Family Living classes touching on this. I took a discipline class that was very interesting and had a lot of great things like this in it. So cool!

  7. This totally makes sense. I'm going to use this on my kiddos.


Your turn.