Praise and Potholes on the Road to Success
We all know that productive praise is essential to our students’ academic success. Research shows that the most effective praise focuses on students’ effort and perseverance on a particular challenge, rather than overall success and natural ability. Positive feedback on hard work encourages students to grow as they take on increasingly large challenges. This approach is the core of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset,”* in which students see themselves developing and overcoming obstacles during the learning process, rather than merely falling back on their natural abilities. They learn that intelligence or skills aren’t fixed, and that the brain continually adapts and grows. Working hard, focusing intently, and bouncing back after setbacks, helps students become smarter and more flexible. They see talent as just the starting line, and are willing to push themselves past their imagined limits, and often find themselves looking back over their shoulder at them. Seeing learning this way builds confidence based in achievement and resilience, rather than natural talent, and empowers students to rise to the next learning risk with less fear of failure. In the growth mindset, the only failure is to stop trying and give up. Somewhere along the line in creating his 2,332 patents, Thomas Edison realized, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
At Summit, we remind students that temporary failure is another mile marker on the road to success, as long as they keep their foot on the gas. Productive struggle, and praising students for sticking with it—even when the road heads uphill and the signs say turn off the AC so your engine doesn’t overheat–can help students blow past the highest expectations for success.
*Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential is highly recommended reading for parents and educators alike.