Carol Dweck's article, "The Perils and Promise of Praise" in Educational Leadership is about the "right ways" and the "wrong ways" to praise students. Dweck discusses what she considers the potentially vast difference between praising a student for "being smart" ("you're good at that," "you are so talented") vs. praising a student for effort put in ("you took immense care with that project", "you kept going when things were really hard", "you are such an active learner"). Dweck's recent book Mindset provides a more in-depth look at what's summarized in the article.

From "The Perils and Promise of Praise":

"Praise is intricately connected to how students view their intelligence. Some students believe that their intellectual ability is a fixed trait. They have a certain amount of intelligence, and that's that. Students with this fixed mind-set become excessively concerned with how smart they are, seeking tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoiding ones that might not (Dweck, 1999, 2006). The desire to learn takes a backseat."

"The fixed and growth mind-sets create two different psychological worlds. In the fixed mind-set, students care first and foremost about how they'll be judged: smart or not smart. Repeatedly, students with this mind-set reject opportunities to learn if they might make mistakes (Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin, & Wan, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). When they do make mistakes or reveal deficiencies, rather than correct them, they try to hide them (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2007)."

"They are also afraid of effort because effort makes them feel dumb. They believe that if you have the ability, you shouldn't need effort (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007), that ability should bring success all by itself. This is one of the worst beliefs that students can hold. It can cause many bright students to stop working in school when the curriculum becomes challenging."

Dweck provides a lot of research to back up her claims. At the end of the article she discusses an intervention performed at first one and then 20 New York City schools.

"If students learned a growth mind-set, we reasoned, they might be able to meet this challenge with increased, rather than decreased, effort. We therefore developed an eight-session workshop in which both the control group and the growth-mind-set group learned study skills, time management techniques, and memory strategies (Blackwell et al., 2007). However, in the growth-mind-set intervention, students also learned about their brains and what they could do to make their intelligence grow."

"They learned that the brain is like a muscle—the more they exercise it, the stronger it becomes. They learned that every time they try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections that, over time, make them smarter. They learned that intellectual development is not the natural unfolding of intelligence, but rather the formation of new connections brought about through effort and learning."

"Students were riveted by this information. The idea that their intellectual growth was largely in their hands fascinated them. In fact, even the most disruptive students suddenly sat still and took notice, with the most unruly boy of the lot looking up at us and saying, 'You mean I don't have to be dumb?'"

"Indeed, the growth-mind-set message appeared to unleash students' motivation. Although both groups had experienced a steep decline in their math grades during their first months of junior high, those receiving the growth-mind-set intervention showed a significant rebound. Their math grades improved. Those in the control group, despite their excellent study skills intervention, continued their decline."

All of the above are quotes from Dweck's article. Reactions? Do you think the ways we praise students (and teachers, others, even ourselves) makes all that much difference? Do you buy this difference between "fixed mindset" and "active mindset"? (Another possible question for reaction: how much is the "active mindset" required for web 2.0 work, and if it is, how do we get into--and encourage-- that mindset?)

Tags: Dweck, mindset, motivation, praise

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On this "One striking example was the boy who thought he was dumb. Before this experience, he had never put in any extra effort and often didn't turn his homework in on time."

Well, that's what happened to me. Because of some IQ test at the end of primary, I got to go to some elitist school. There dominated the "fixed intelligence mindset". That was a school where they had selected the very best students, etc. etc. Well, I failed. I badly failed. I avoided to study for tests as I perceived tests as having for sole purpose to establish how clever or stupid I was. To barely pass a test without studying means that you *may* have some intelligence. To barely pass a test when you have studied hard means that you are unambiguously stupid. Incidently, I also badly failed in English as a second language (my native language is French).

Luckily, I changed of school. I went for a school where they had a "growing-mind" mindset. I ended up doing a M.Phil in Cambridge, UK. I went on for a PhD.

In my experience, yes, this made a huge difference.

Web 2.0 in the sense that it encourages collaborative work is more in line with the "mind-growth". What web 2.0 tools encourage is the progressive construction of knowledge. You get to construct something over time rather than take a test and receive your mark short later. The purpose of learning is not anymore to get a high mark but it is to construct something and to learn in the process. You don't learn to get a high mark. You learn to increase your skills and empower yourself. As a teacher, if you adopt a fixed mindset type of praise, you will have huge difficulties to get all kids contributing. The ones you praise will feel the need to show off and perhaps sabotage the efforts of other kids. The ones you fail to praise or get labelled as underachievers will rapidly disengage

PS. I ended up teaching cognitive neuroscience of language in a top university. On "We are discovering that the brain has more plasticity over time than we ever imagined (Doidge, 2007);". Yup, you can check out the slides of a lecture I gave on the topic acquisition and the critical period ;-). There is, as always a bit of simplification in the conclusion that the way you praise may give more brain power to a kid. But, yes, there is good evidence that there is important plasticity in the brain, especially before the age of 10.
You know I am a complete "Dweck head!" I read her book "Mindset" loved it and blogged about it this summer. Thanks so much for sharing this article. This looks perfect for sharing with parents and colleagues. It is her book in a nut shell.
Thanks for your story! How wonderful it is to reflect back on our stages and discoveries as "learners." I hate to say it, but a lot of educators seem to think they're "done" with learning and neither look back to see how they got to where they are, but also don't move forward with any sort of active mindset. It's all about jamming "knowledge bits" into people's heads, with little attention to the processes of learning. Aren't the processes the main agenda?

Your comment about web 2.0 is illuminating:
"Web 2.0 in the sense that it encourages collaborative work is more in line with the 'mind-growth'. What web 2.0 tools encourage is the progressive construction of knowledge. You get to construct something over time rather than take a test and receive your mark short later. The purpose of learning is not anymore to get a high mark but it is to construct something and to learn in the process. You don't learn to get a high mark. You learn to increase your skills and empower yourself." Yes!

Liz, we still need to come up with a lesson design for moving kids into this active mindset. How could we get started? Anyone else into this?
I am no classroom teacher ;). But I remember a really cool lesson format that required kids to experiment for themselves and feel it from the inside. This was about teaching kids about racist discrimination. The rule was that for one day, kids with blue eyes will be the priviledged one. They would be able to do anything they wanted to the less advantaged kids. Of course, they enjoyed that very much. They started acting like perfect little bullies. Next day, they reversed the rules. Brown eyes (i.e., non blue) kids where to be the privildged ones for a day. On the third day, they discussed the experience. You can read more about this at a class divided

Something similar could be done on praising. For a week, they have to be praised and to praise one another using one method. For another week the second method. Test activity at the end of each week to measure their progress. Third week, evaluate/discuss.

The advantage of having kids experience that for themselves is there is not only a benefit when teachers praise kids that way. There is also some benefit for kids to learn to praise their friends and classmates that way.
That sounds like a fascinating experiment. Seems to me it'd best be started with an in-depth talk about Dweck's theories and research, and then say now let's try experiencing it firsthand to see what we discover. I like this way this would bring us right into the emotional-intelligence perspective as well.
Has anyone else taken this on in the classroom? I am a High school Intervention teacher and at my school we want to infuse lessons that cover this information into our Intervention program. We are trying to put things together based on the articles and Dweck's book, Mindset. But is there anything out there already? Can we collaborate?
I know that Dweck had worked on a software program "Brainology" as part of her research, but I don't know if it ever got released.
Hi Liz--

I was just thinking of you yesterday when Dweck came up again in our professional development at school. She's in the Best of Educational Leadership, same article. (In that issue, Joy in School by Steven Wolk is also a fantastic read.)

Since launching into a study of her work last year, I've consciously changed the way I praise students, focusing mostly on the effort, the perseverance, the involvement in learning that it took for someone to come up with a really good production.

Talking with the students about Dweck's studies is fascinating. Returning again and again to the theme that it's one's quality of involvement that leads to the most growth seems to be relieving and empowering to children. They move away from staying with what's easy--or what they already do well--into more active exploration and openness. Do you find that's true?

Some students have the static mindset so embedded in their beings that they still don't change, however. To them, it's all about doing what's asked, getting it done and over with ASAP. They are externally-referenced, not motivated from within... It's easy to see who's going to take charge of their lives and grow the most rapidly, the most constantly: the active mindset students. It becomes especially apparent at upper elementary.

Hi Connie,
As you know I am obsessed with Dweck's work. I think I apply it most with my own children. I try to be very specific about my praise and I always talk about strategies that work and strategies that don't.

In my role as a technology specialist I have had fewer opportunities to implement her work. I have talked to my students about it, but they are high school students and they are very focused on grades. Especially now that I'm working in a selective prep school. Grades are everything here. This will be a tough nut to crack. I've only started here, so I will do my best to chip away.

Connie - you are so thoughtful. Your school is very lucky to have you. Did you end up seeing Carol at that conference last year? She is speaking at the big independent school conference this year,but I'm not going to be able to attend.
You might check For some reason I think they discussed Dweck there and I don't know if it was all positive.
Hi Emily,
I think it'd be great to explore more about developing a curriculum along this line, starting simple with something like "themes for discussion." Sure, we could collaborate. Maybe we can start by seeing if Dweck has materials available. Shall we write to her?

Carol's email is I wrote to her a while ago and she never replied (I only tried once and it was summer). With a growth mindset I would have tried again - but I never got to it.

Please share if she writes you back.



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