While many of us are aware that positive feedback is good for motivation, there can be a difference between the kinds of praise that are effective according to psychologist, Dr.Carol Dweck.
Roughly 30 years ago, Dweck pioneered a theory called growth mindset, which has since become hugely popular. This theory essentially looks at students attitudes toward failure.
Researchers found that while some students quickly pick themselves up, and look for ways to learn from their failure, others are more devastated, even by small setbacks. This is due to students attitudes toward learning and effort. If they believe that intelligence is fixed, then it will be harder to overcome such obstacles, but if they believe that with time and effort, they can get smarter, then this can make a big difference when it comes to achievement.
As with student mindset, the same can also be true of teacher mindset. Researchers found that when a teacher ranks students abilities from low to high potential, and operates a fixed attitude in terms of how much control a student has to overcome this, this can impact negatively on the student.
In terms of praise, there are two kinds. There is praise that focuses on how intelligent children are – “you are so smart”, and then there is praise that focuses on effort – “I really admire how hard you worked on that”.
The praise focusing on effort cultivates a growth mindset whereas the praise focused on intelligence may create a negative result, since the student feels this is something you just are, or you are not, and they are more likely to hide when they get a negative result, than to seek ways to overcome it.
The idea that intelligence can be developed, rather than being set it stone, is a hugely popular idea in education at the moment.
As persistence is so important in much of what we do in life, it is no surprise that those praised for their efforts, do better in this regard, while those praised for intelligence are more likely to choose tasks that they think will allow them to continue to look intelligent.
Further studies have since confirmed the results of the original research, with some studies having as much as 100,000 participants.
Additional benefits of growth mindset are better self regulation and higher self esteem, among other mental health benefits.
As a culture we should try to develop a positive stance toward receiving quality feedback, and this can be instilled at a young age.
So, it is important to examine where you may have a fixed mindset and then try to improve on this gradually as a way to get started.
By being more mindful of this idea, we can help students to become more resilient and to respond positively to criticism and failure.