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Proper Praise to Develop a Learning Mindset

This article was based on the RSA Animate, “How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential,” featuring Carol Dweck.

RSA ANIMATE: How To Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential


Fixed Versus Growth Mindsets

Carol Dweck shares a number of studies that look at how mindset affects a child’s ability to learn.  Some students have a fixed mindset, believing that intelligence is static and unchanging.  This attitude makes kids afraid to try for fear of looking dumb. Other students have a growth mindset, believing that intelligence can be developed. They enjoy the challenge of learning.  

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Measuring Mindsets

One study that Dweck references involved hundreds of students with similar achievement scores who were entering seventh grade. The study measured the mindsets of the students at the beginning of the school year to see which ones had fixed mindsets and which believed intelligence was constantly in development. Throughout the next two years, the students’ math grades and attitudes toward learning were monitored.  

During the testing period, the grades of the two groups began to steadily diverge. The only thing that differed was their mindsets. This lead to differing goals among the students. The number one goal for kids with a fixed mindset was to look smart and avoid tasks that might show a deficiency.  The other group with a growth mindset focused on continuous learning.


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Setbacks Lead to Learnings

In a fixed mindset, effort is considered a bad thing because they believe if you have ability, effort is not necessary. This way of thinking is why many students don’t fulfil their potential. Students with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that effort is what activates their ability.

Similarly, in a fixed mindset a setback reveals limitations. Students in a fixed mindset try to hide their mistakes and conceal their deficiencies. Those with a growth mindset understand that setbacks are a natural part of learning.


Praise the Process

So where do these different mindsets come from?  A 15-year study revealed that different types of praise impact the mindset a child will develop. The study tested intelligence praise versus process praise and found that process praise was more beneficial, leading to a growth mindset.  

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Praising intelligence turns kids off to learning. Kids who were praised for intelligence later rejected the chance to learn, instead choosing to do something they were already good at. Those praised for the process overwhelmingly picked the harder task, knowing they could learn from it.

What these studies reveal is that we need to teach children a new value system. When a child does something easily, praise the process and move on to something harder and more challenging. Students have a right to appreciate challenges that lead to growth and to live in an environment where they can experience their full potential.


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