Praise is a powerful thing. One study showed that 85% of parents believe that it is important to praise children for their intelligence. However, as I’ve learned from my Lifespan Development class, not all types of praise can be helpful.
Praising someone’s intelligence leads to a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, intellectual ability is seen as inherent, and seems like a quality that cannot be changed. People with a fixed mindset sees their own abilities, character, and intelligence as fixed qualities that cannot grow, adapt or change over time. Therefore, mistakes are seen as signs of failure: Fixed-mindset individuals avoid making mistakes and risks, striving for success at all times. When faced with failure, they are more likely to become frustrated with themselves and give up on the task at hand.
On the other hand, praising someone’s effort leads to a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, intellectual ability can be cultivated with efforts. People with growth mindsets view mistakes as part of the learning process. These individuals would thrive on challenges, learn from their mistakes, and evolve and grow. They see setbacks as lessons to improve their existing skillset, developing resilience in the face of failures. Having a growth mindset positively predicts academic achievement, buffers the effect of poverty on achievement, and reduces the effect of stereotype threat on marginalized communities.
The type of mindset students have play a critical role in their future success, especially for students who are from a low-income background. A study in Chile concluded that socioeconomic background is one of the strongest predictor of academic achievement. These students face a variety of disadvantages resulting from their background, including reduced access to resources, higher stress levels, low nutrition, and even housing instability. In addition to these factors, they are less likely to have a growth mindset compared to wealthier students. However, the study found that low-income students who had a growth mindset showed academic achievement as high as wealthier students with a fixed mindset. Their mindset buffered against the negative effects of poverty on their academic achievement. The results suggested that a growth mindset, fostered by praise of effort, teaches students to be more resilient and persevere despite hardships.
So how can we learn to develop a growth mindset? How can we learn to use growth to measure our success rather than the results?
Carol S. Dweck presents a powerful talk on the power of implementing “Not Yet” in the school curriculum. Students who have not passed the course required to graduate would be given the grade ‘Not Yet”. The grade does not denote failure, but rather shows that students are on a learning curve, and provide a path to the future instead of focusing on the imminent mistakes. “Not Yet” shows a future success and encourages students to try again.
These strategies are not just limited to the curriculum of that high school in Chicago. We all, as students, can learn to tell ourselves, “Not Yet”, when we can’t solve out a problem, or when we receive a less than satisfactory grade for an essay, or when our projects do not turn out well. Beyond academic achievement, fostering a growth mindset will be critical in our future success. We must praise our own effort and creativity, our progress and resilience, so that we can continue growing.