Effective Methods of Praise to Develop a Growth Mindset
Develop a growth mindset in your students through your praise. Emphasising effort and perseverance will help them be in control of their own learning success.
Growth Mindset Teaching and Praise
Are you mindful of how you praise your students and its effects? Looking back on my teaching, I wonder how much of my praise was an automatic response.
What we say to our students and how we say it supports a growth or fixed mindset. We naturally want to praise them, but being conscious of our words and the context, we can see the impact they have on our students. I also wrote about praise in the post Promoting a Growth Mindset in the Classroom.
Emphasising effort and perseverance to your students, they will come to realise they are in control of their own success. Praising the learning process, strategies used, along with an incentive to challenge themselves, they are more likely to show effort, persistence and resilience. Responding to intelligence or the successful completion of a task does not prepare your students to move forward after failure.
What follows are suggestions of growth mindset teaching and prasie, helping you to nurture effort, engagement, focus and resistance to distractions.
Using Praise to Develop a Growth Mindset
What words are you using with your student interactions? How do you react when students respond to questions? Does your body language show if they get the answer ‘wrong’? Do your words promote perseverance, effort, courage, taking risks, overcoming challenges and embracing failures?
Reading Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research, it is clear how influential our praise is to students’ growth. If you say “you did amazing work” but don’t explain why they won’t have a context to understand why they did well or how they could do amazing work again. Praising the learning process helps them know what they are doing well and effective strategies to keep using.
Dweck found process praise from teachers and parents motivated children more than outcome praise. Focusing on the process supports their understanding of the effective strategies they have used and how their efforts are important even if they make a mistake. This builds your students resilience and encourages them to accomplish their goals and not quit.
Dweck warns that teachers sometimes take a fixed mindset approach, often in relation to the ability of a student. She urges teachers to think about their own reactions to setbacks. For example, do you feel defeated, negative, defensive or angry when a lesson doesn’t go as planned? Dweck suggests we should be eager to learn and make positive changes, as this is the attitude we want to instil in our students. We need to model this in the classroom in ways we react and interact with our students.
Avoid the temptation to jump in and help your students or give them the answers. This will limit their application of new strategies and ideas. It also tells them you think they aren’t capable and negatively affects their self-esteem.
What follows are key areas you can focus on to develop a growth mindset in the classroom. I have added a few example phrases to each section. You might notice some of them could go in multiple areas.
Focusing on a child’s performance and their task mastery avoids comparing children to their peers. This only leads them to focus on others rather than their own growth. You will have high-achieving students scared to take risks. Using praise to establish a growth mindset helps them see mistakes as a way of growing and moving forward. On the flip side, those who put in little effort need praise and feedback to know their actions will improve with effort.
Examples of Individual Performance Praise and Feedback
- I see you are putting in a lot of effort to achieve your best work.
- I like how you used different strategies to figure out how to complete the task.
- I can see all your hard work has made a difference. What could you do next to challenge yourself?
- You have mastered ________. You should be proud of all your hard work.
- What did you learn from working through this task?
- Are you proud of your work? What could you do to make it better?
Do you make your expectations clear to your students? Specific feedback on work, behaviour, performance, organisation, etc., helps them know what they are aiming for. Giving specific informational feedback avoids giving praise students see as a reward, such as “Well done, you are so clever.” While this praise may work initially children will expect it and lose interest in challenging themselves.
Examples of Informational Feedback and Praise
- Despite the setbacks, what made you keep going?
- Did you work as hard as you could have? Explain what strategies you can use to improve?
- Don’t worry if you make a mistake. Look at the improvements you have already made.
- Your understanding is growing all the time. Using different strategies is helping you make new discoveries. Well done!
Praising the use of strategies helps your students understand their effort and way of working drives their success. Praising the students (“You are very good at ______.”) puts the focus on them and not their efforts or way of working.
Examples of Process Praise and Feedback
- You kept going even when it was hard. That means your brain is growing.
- I liked how you took a risk to find the solution.
- You persevered, and I can see your understanding is growing.
- Keep practising, I see significant improvements.
- You should be so proud of your effort. It shows in your work.
Setting realistic expectations and giving your students support helps them make goals and extend their learning. Your praise should reflect that, so don’t set expectations too high or too low. For example, don’t be tempted to tell a student they have done their “best work ever”. How are they supposed to improve on that?
Examples of Realistic Expectations Praise and Feedback
- This task will challenge you, but I believe you can do it.
- I am so proud of you for doing it by yourself.
- When you say “I am not good at ______” remember to add YET.
- Thank you for __________, now you can ____________.
- You did ________. What are you going to do next?
While our words are important the classroom environment needs to mirror the words we use. Have a look around your classroom from your students’ perspective, not yours, and think about:
- How do you display students’ work? Is a range of abilities and styles displayed or only the ‘best’ work?
- What labels and posters do you use and what are they telling your students?
- Is your classroom encouraging high expectations for all your students?
- How is it helping those students who struggle to show a growth mindset or show achievement?
- Does it encourage children to take risks or do they feel you expect them to be right?
- Is it a safe environment where they can fail, get support and share fears?
Praise is more than just recognising achievements, it works to highlight compassion, courage, standing up for what’s right, forgiveness, taking risks, time management, etc. Think about how you develop a growth mindset in your classroom on a daily basis. Use the comment section to tell me all about it!
I will leave the last word to Carol Dweck about the importance of a growth mindset teaching and praise.