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Praising effort not intelligence

November 4, 2012

I had students read and respond to an article on Carol Dweck’s work on praise as a homework assignment this semester. I’m not sure this is the best article to use but it talks about Dweck’s work on praising intelligence versus praising effort and it was about the length I wanted so I went with it.

The assignment asked students to summarize Dweck’s main results and to give two examples of specific, effort-based praise that would be appropriate for a science class. (The students are mostly ed. majors.) The assignment also asked students to share an instance in which they received praise that they found personally meaningful and to reflect on why it was so meaningful. The last question described the idea of fixed vs. growth mindsets and asked students to rank themselves on a scale from fixed to growth and to list two things they could do to try to adopt more of a growth mindset in our class.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss this assignment during class so all I have is the students’ written work. Many students gave really great examples of specific, effort-based praise. This worked well both as an insight into what actions students think are beneficial in a science class and as my own instructor’s guide of things to look for and commend when they are done well. The question about fixed vs. growth mindset was not quite as insightful. The article did not specifically talk about mindsets so this is something I very quickly summarized in the assignment. (I need to find a good article that does talk about mindsets.) When asked for steps they could take to adopt a growth mindset, most students listed way to grow their understanding of science but not necessarily grow their mindset. This is a subtle but important difference  and I need to think about how to tease apart these two different types of growth so students can see the difference.

This assignment also helped me to realize that I need to do a better job with praise. In class things move so quickly that I don’t often stop to commend students when they are engaging with the material, the equipment, or each other in really great ways. After the assignment, I sent an email to the class listing general behaviors that I’ve seen in class that are productive and are the kinds of things I want to see happening in class. I also sent emails to several students this weekend who have been raising their quiz scores with each quiz. Some of the emails mentioned very specific things students are doing that I appreciate and that I think are helpful for their learning but other emails were more generic. Many of the students have written back saying that they appreciate my recognizing their efforts. I have a lot I could improve in this area but at least I’m starting to put together a list of specific productive behaviors that I can look for and comment on.

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