Education Week - April 11, 2018 - 6
Does Praise for Good Effort Backfire for Teenagers?
By Sarah D. Sparks
and teachers the most and seems the
most intuitive to do," Amemiya said.
David Yeager, an associate psychology professor and mindset researcher
at the University of Texas at Austin,
agreed. In his own national study
of students' learning mindsets, he
said when teachers reported preferring to praise students' effort alone,
students weren't especially likely to
think teachers had a growth mindset themselves. In fact, Yeager and
Carol Dweck, the Stanford University researcher who first coined the
term "growth mindset," have come to
consider a focus on effort praise alone
to be a "false growth mindset."
Afiya Fredericks, a program-implementation manager for Mindset
Works Inc., a group co-founded by
Dweck that works with schools to educate students about mindsets, said
some practitioners have oversimplified the concept in trying to develop
tools for teaching, "so praising good
effort just becomes a replacement for
saying 'good job.' It becomes sort of
mindless and it's less meaningful."
Teachers have long been told to
praise students' effort, rather than
simply saying they are "smart," as
a way to encourage them to think of
their intelligence as something that
can grow over time.
But teenagers can be a prickly, contrary bunch with a finely tuned skepticism for adults, and a new review of
research in the journal Child Development suggests that just praising
the effort of middle and high school
students to boost their "growth mindset" can have the opposite effect, with
those adolescents praised becoming
less likely to believe their work can
improve their intelligence or skills.
"It seems to have this backfiring effect," said Jaime Amemiya, a
University of Pittsburgh psychology
researcher who co-wrote the article
with Ming-Te Wang, a University of
Pittsburgh associate professor of psychology and education.
Prior research has suggested educators can encourage students to
have a growth mindset by praising
their process rather than ability. Problematic Culture?
Process includes both students' effort
and the successful strategies they
That's particularly a problem in
use. "The strategies part is really im- middle and high school, when many
portant, because that gives kids in- students move to bigger schools
formation on what they did correctly with more academically tracked
and what they can keep improving. classrooms and social cliques. Stu... But it seems like the effort praise dents become aware of class rankis what has
been reaching parents ings, and schools
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 11, 2018 | www.edweek.org
promote academic stars.
"There's a shift in the environment
at this time. Effort isn't seen in such
a positive light as we get older, especially in the American culture," Amemiya said. "We really admire people
who are effortless achievers; they just
Effort isn't seen in
such a positive light
as we get older. ..."
University of Pittsburgh
'get math' or 'get science' without having to work too hard."
In forthcoming research, Yeager
also found that older students are
less likely to believe teachers who tell
them they can "make a difference"
in the world unless the teacher first
builds trust with them.
"When told to 'try harder,' adolescents may read between the lines and
wonder, 'How come other people don't
have to work so hard?' At some level,
we shouldn't be surprised if teenagers get offended by what adults say
even when they're not trying to be in-
sulting," Yeager said. "But it's easy to
forget that, with teachers, what goes
unsaid can, many times, be louder
than what was said explicitly."
In particular, schools can undermine their work to promote growth
mindset if they also allow academic
or other policies that disproportionately affect certain groups of
students, such as having advanced
courses that disproportionately include white or wealthier students.
"The type of feedback you may give
some students, or opportunities you
may give one student to learn and
achieve that you don't give to others-older students are quicker to
pick up on that," Fredericks said.
More Holistic Approach
Mary Murphy, an associate psychology professor and mindset researcher at Indiana University, was
not involved with the article but concurred with its findings, noting that
students of all ages can lose trust
in adults who praise them for effort
without specifying what was "effective" about it. She suggested educators can give adolescents a better
foundation for a growth mindset by,
among other measures:
* Providing opportunities for students to reflect on their own learning.
This allows "teachers to act as facilitators and provide constructive feedback to the students to gauge their
development," said Bobby Dodd, the
principal of Gahanna Lincoln High
School in Ohio.
* Highlight mistakes in the everyday practice of learning. "Tell students, 'I don't want to know what you
found easy, I want to know what you
got wrong because that's where the
learning will be,' " Murphy said.
* Use group work where peers discuss what they each struggled with
and explore individual strengths of
Saluda High School in rural
South Carolina adopted self-paced
curricula and personalized learning
in part to encourage growth mindset among its students. "Teachers
learning styles, different preferences, different speeds. And that's
OK, because they're all eventually
going to show mastery of the standards in the end," said Sarah Longshore, Saluda's principal.
The move improved school culture,
she said. "Students accept personal
responsibility, are self-motivated,
and feel empowered. That's growth
mindset in a nutshell-the idea that
persistence eventually pays off."
Coverage of social and emotional
learning is supported in part by a
grant from the NoVo Foundation,
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