Savio Campus News

I recently read a very interesting article by Kristina Schwartz, an American journalist who writes for the education blog Mindshift. It was about how to praise kids. A lot of the conversation around this topic has stemmed from studies by Carol Dweck - Professor of Psychology at Stanford who has been researching this specific topic for many years.

The following is an excerpt from it.

 “My research shows that praise for intelligence or ability backfires,” said Dweck, who co-authored a seminal research paper on the effects of praise on motivation and performance. “What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.”

But what some might not know is that this paradox is strongest for girls.

Dweck’s research, which focuses on what makes people seek challenging tasks, persist through difficulty and do well over time, has shown that many girls believe their abilities are fixed, that individuals are born with gifts and can’t change. Her research finds that when girls think this way, they often give up, rather than persisting through difficulties. They don’t think they possess the ability to improve, and nowhere is the phenomenon stronger than in math.

“Of all the subjects on earth, people think math is the most fixed,” Dweck said. “It’s a gift, you either have it or you don’t. And that it’s most indicative of your intelligence.” This attitude presents an especially sticky problem to educators working to boost girls’ interest and passion for science, technology, engineering and math – STEM subjects. For many boys, believing math is a fixed ability doesn’t hamper achievement — they just assume they have it, Dweck said. But girls don’t seem to possess that same confidence, and in their efforts to achieve perfection, Dweck’s research shows they shy away from subjects where they might fail.

This suggests that parents and educators should rethink what implicit and explicit messages are being sent to young girls about achievement. So what can we do? Schwartz has the following advice:

If adults emphasize that all skills are learned through a process of engagement, value challenge and praise efforts to supersede frustration rather than only showing excitement over the right answer, girls will show resilience. 
Avoid direct praise, and while it isn’t easy, praise the process and emphasize the fun in challenging situations so students learn resilience.
Anxious parents often don’t tolerate small setbacks but we need to help students understand failure in small doses is good. Students learn as they go, getting better each time they attempt a task.

“If you have little failures along the way and have them understand that’s part of learning, and that you can actually derive useful information about what to do next, that’s really useful,” Dweck said.

Families should sit around the dinner table discussing the day’s struggles and new strategies for attacking the problem. In life no one can be perfect, and learning to view little failures as learning experiences, or opportunities to grow could be the most valuable lesson of all.

We know that the best educational outcomes are achieved when students are supported both at home and at school. Hopefully this is some food for thought about some strategies you can use with your child.

Narelle Stone
Savio Campus Director