Feb 13, 2007

praise goes before a fall

Josh says, "It is about being smart versus being called smart." Or, more precisely, how the latter can completely screw up the former, as the New York Times Magazine reports. In a cleverly designed study, generic praise turned otherwise bright students into risk-averse coasters.
Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.
Meanwhile, praising effort instead of intelligence garnered remarkable results, while the inverse was equally debilitating.
Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.
If you're a teacher or parent, read the whole (massive) article. Then start listening to yourself: do you spout "Good job!" or "You're so smart!" to fill space in the conversation?


TheTachyix said...

It's all the justification I need to continue giving absolutist ballots (ones based on the total continuum of speech quality, not just relative to other speakers in the round) while trying to remember who I've seen so I can slip in praise about improvement. And there usually is some, so I don't have to lie!
The results are uh...mixed as I've had "I love your ballots/I hate your ballots/Your ballot was useless/useful" from competitors, but the ones who most frequent tournaments usually respond positively. Usually.

TeacherRefPoet said...

I've based a lot of how I praise through the years on this study (or a similar one). In te version I saw, students were all given a difficult task to follow up the easy one. The students who were told "You worked really hard on this!" actually volunteered to take the puzzle home, while those who were told "You're really smart" became agitated and gave up.

"Nice work." "Good, solid thought." "You clearly busted your butt on this." I try to fill my classroom with that.

Aaron said...

Nice job reading that whole thing Mr. A. You clearly worked very hard on it.

Jim Anderson said...

I'll never read again.