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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I ended up begging the Brainology folks and got to pilot the program at my High School this year. We put our "at risk" 9th graders, 10th graders, and a group of advanced EL students (who were not progressing) through it. It has made an amazing difference in the students and the way they behave and work.

All of their teachers are trying to speak to them in a more growth minded way (for examples check out my ning - ) and try being more growth oriented in their assessments. The PE teachers are talking about brain growth in PE, the math teachers in Alg, and the Geography teachers too!

We built 5 foot long neurons to talk about the effects of practice, nutrition, and how to strengthen connections. Brainology also has a great study skills component which is heavily brain science centered.

The kids finished the program in December and we are starting to see some amazing changes in their output since the change of the semester (a fresh start). My Ning is for collaborating, discussing and sharing - join us!

We also have a professional learning community doing a study of her work (and a book study).
Do you think this is worthwhile to pay the $99 to try with an 11yo at home? I'm not sure it would be easy to engage my daughter in this after watching their demo. The graphics are not impressive and may instantly put her off I can imagine it might work better in a school environment.
I wrote to her and to the site "Brainology" on Friday :-) They wrote me back right away! The "Brainology" site is up and they wrote it for Jr High right now. They will have a more high school version coming out later.

The site said that we can try out the site as a beta user if we write to them through the website to make the request. I plan to do that tonight. They also sent me a link to a free article that might be useful. I just got back from a wedding, so I haven't read it yet :-)
(the article)

At my high school we have been working on a few introductory lessons for students which I can share tomorrow. We want to eventually get to the point where teachers are planning with 'growth questioning' and 'growth feedback' as a part of the pre lesson planning.

I am really excited to work with you both! Thanks for your responses!
Wonderful research, great directions to go in. Thanks for the links. Let's compare notes as we continue this study, share what we're learning, ok? Wow--what energizing collegiality we've got going here--great stuff.
I really liked Dweck's article. What intrigued me most was the "Brainology" workshop for the kids. In my own classroom here in New York City, I have seen kids respond very well to articles about human intelligence. To be sure, I'll try to educate my kids about the differences between "fixed" and "active" mindsets. I know that they will appreciate this.

Lilith Windwalker
What a great article- inspiring
Johnny come lately to the conversation! I've been reading Dweck's work this year and as a parent, I find it amazing. I'm struggling with how to use praise better in the classroom. By the time I get students, they are all about collecting the points they need rather than thinking about how they can grow. I'm intrigued by the Brainology site. Have others tried it?
My site has been using this for 2 years and we even had a chance to meet Carol Dweck a few weeks ago. The company is great to work with and the materials are fantastic for kids. The adults should watch it too so that they can support the messages.
We have some lessons here as well:



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