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Not All Praise Is Created Equal

A surprising number of teachers I have observed over the years are holding back their students achievement and passion for learning through careless praising and poor incentive schemes.

Through the correct use of praise we can teach the power of a growth mindset and in turn create motivation, resilience and productivity in the classroom.

WHAT IS A GROWTH MINDSET?

For those of you who aren’t aware of Carol Dweck’s research, when a person has a ‘Growth Mindset’, they believe that dedication and hard work are the pathway to achievement. People with a growth mindset have a love for learning and expanding their knowledge and skill set.

The opposite of this has been termed a ‘Fixed Mindset’. People with a fixed mindset believe that their talent and intelligence are fixed traits. They believe that talent, without effort, is the key to success.

People with a fixed mindset are so uncomfortable with looking like they can’t do something that they will intentionally misbehave or avoid the learning in order to avoid the embarrassment of people seeing they’re not a ‘natural’ or ‘intelligent’.

Children and adults with a growth mindset however get excited by new opportunities to learn and grow and love finding things they can’t yet do. Challenges are obstacles to be overcome – not something to run from.

WHAT CAUSES THESE MINDSETS?

There are many different aspects which affect the way a child understands the world. The main way we as teachers have an impact on the child’s mindset is through our language and more specifically, our methods for praise and feedback.

Let’s look at the following examples of feedback which develops a fixed mindset compared to what could be said to develop a Growth Mindset. These are real examples I have seen in the classroom. (Any names are made up!)

Fixed: “Aaron here is an awesome dancer, he’s such a natural”

(Puts Aaron’s abilities down to natural talent and disregards any hard work he has put in.)

Growth: “Aaron here practices a lot, it is really paying off!”

(Instead, praise on his dedication and you will fuel more practice and growth in the future.)

 

Fixed: “You guys are so good at this! You learn so quickly!”

(Teaching a child that it’s good to learn things quickly will put them off trying to learn anything that is harder and takes them more time.)

Growth: “I can really see the effort everyone’s putting in. Keep it up and we’ll be able to make it even harder for you!”

(Instead, praise the effort, and let them know there is always more to learn.)

 

Fixed: “I’m going to be giving out points to the best dancers in the room at the end of class.”

(What does this do for the children that don’t think they can dance as well as others? They don’t even try to get the points.)

Growth: “I’m going to be giving out points to those students I see pushing themselves and not giving up, no matter how hard it gets for you.”

(Instead, encourage every child to aim for the incentive by encouraging growth, no matter what level they are at in the time being.)

 

Fixed: Teacher in front of students – “No I’ve got two left feet, I’d be hopeless at dance”

(Students are looking up to you. If you display your own fixed mindset and disinterest in learning something new because you feel you won’t be good at it, what’s stopping them from adopting the same attitude?)

Growth: “I’ve never been very good at dance, so let’s see if we can change that. Bear with me kids, I may look a bit silly for a while!”

(Make it fun, demonstrate that they the key to learning is trying new things and letting yourself struggle for a while as you grow!)

 

This last example really gets to me. Adults refusing to learn new things but expecting children to. It makes children see learning as something only kids do – something they ‘have to do’ because the teacher/parent said so.

As teachers, we need to learn alongside the kids, showing them that learning doesn’t stop, no matter how old or ‘experienced’ you are.

As teachers, we must remain a student.

WHERE CAN YOU START?

Through my experience teaching dance, I’ve
found that it can be the perfect medium for harbouring a
growth mindset as progress can be seen and felt each time you practice. The majority of children don’t do dance outside of school either so they feel a sense of achieving something which would otherwise be completely foreign to them.

There are techniques that will help your students develop this powerful mindset, and if you are creative these tools can be used in all areas of learning.

Pre-frame The Lesson!

Before every lesson it is important to remind children that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. By effectively framing a lesson or topic, you can greatly increase the students’ drive to achieve and their attention span.

You could begin by saying one of the following:

“Now what we are about to learn may be rather challenging. I expect to see every single one of you make at least one mistake, likely more. When you do make a mistake, that’s great, just keep trying and I promise you, you will pick it up eventually.”

“I am going to challenge you with something very difficult now. I’m doing this because I have seen how well you can overcome challenges in the past so now I am going to push you. Let’s take our time and work through this and in the end, we’ll all deserve to be proud of ourselves”

“I don’t expect anyone to get these things straight away, it may even take you a couple of weeks. If you do make mistakes, I don’t care. All I care about is whether you let those mistakes stop you from trying, or whether you push through them and keep going anyway.”

Please try these things in the classroom and see how much better your students respond to new ideas. As you get more comfortable with your new language patterns you can get creative and see how you can adopt a growth mindset perspective in all areas of your teaching and in your own life.

To learn more, pick up a copy of Carol Dweck’s life changing book, ‘Mindset’.

All of my staff are required to read this book as part of their training, and all have reported how it changed their lives as well as their teaching philosophy.

In the meantime, do whatever you can to engage and inspire your students to be lifelong-learners.

Dean Langham

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