Tag Archives: praise

The industrious child

The advice to go to school, work hard, get a good job seems to be often repeated, as if it is advice given to all young people as they are growing up. Funnily enough, I don’t remember receiving it when I was in school, though I may have been given it. With or without it, I think I was fairly industrious, for the final year anyway, studying six hours long into the evening each day after school. I devoted one hour to each of my six subjects. I needed to work hard to get the job of my dreams: all I wanted to be was a teacher.

I think I have probably always worked fairly hard, even when I wasn’t ‘working’. Maybe I should rephrase that, and say that I consistently put in a good effort, as long as low marks for exercise and housework are not put into the aggregate.  Effort doesn’t always produce the hoped-for results, and sometimes the results can be achieved without any apparent effort. I have not yet found that in relation to exercise or housework, though. I’ll let you know when I do.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about being industrious. She says that

“Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work.”

Tony Wagner - iterations

I hope she’s right. In the current iteration, of which there have been a few, of my teaching career, I am combining my passion for education with my love of writing.

Charli says that

“You have to find a niche … an outlet and fair payment.”

I’m working on those and I’m hoping that this time my effort will produce the desired result.

My niche: early childhood educational resources with a point of difference being interactivity in some

My outlet: a website readilearn, soon to be launched

Fair payment: while some resources will be available free of charge, others, including the interactive resources will be available only to subscribers

The relationship between effort and result is relevant when thinking about growth mindset and praise, both of which have previously been discussed on this blog, here and here for example.

fixed - growth mindset

Growth mindset is a way of thinking about learning proposed by Carol Dweck; of viewing learning as occurring on a continuum of possibilities that may not yet be, but have the potential to be, achieved. It differs from thinking about the ability to learn as being fixed or limited in various unalterable ways.

Much of the discussion about praise, see here, here, and here, referred to how the effect of praising for effort, “I can see you worked hard on this” differed from that of praising achievement ‘Great job!”. Personally, I’m hoping for a bit of both once my website launches. I’d like some praise for the product, but also recognition of the effort. I just have to hope others find it worthy. I definitely don’t want to receive any hollow praise, which I think is a major criticism of the comment “Good job!”.


Needless to say my interest was piqued by a statement in the opening paragraph of the post Mindset, abundance by Mary Dooms on Curiouser and Curiouser this week:

“a colleague … and I continue to commiserate on the implementation of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research.”

Dooms goes on to say that “nurturing a growth mindset is a daunting task” and explains that their fear “that growth mindset has been reduced to the grit mentality of telling the students to work harder” is shared by Dweck.

I followed the link provided to an article published in September 2015 in which Carol Dweck revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’. In this article Dweck says that one of the biggest misconceptions about a growth mindset is equating it with effort. She says there is more to achievement than just effort and reminds us that effort has a goal: learning, improvement or achievement. Effort is not made simply for effort’s sake and there is no point if it is not achieving something. She cautioned that we need to be aware of when effort is not productive and to provide students with a range of strategies to use when they get stuck.

She says

“Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning.”

She explains that

“The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: ‘Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.’”

She goes on to say that having a growth mindset is not a destination, it is a journey. We all have some thoughts and responses that are more akin to a growth mindset and some akin to a fixed mindset. It is important to recognise both and continue to grow in growth mindset thinking. I know I still have a lot of learning and growing to do, but with Dweck’s acknowledgment of the same, I know I am in good company.

Dooms also links to an article by Peter DeWitt published in Education Week Why a ‘Growth Mindset’ Won’t Work. DeWitt states that according to John Hattie, whose work I have previously mentioned here, a growth mindset has little effect on classroom results. Now that’s putting the cat among the pigeons.

However, DeWitt explains that the reason for the low effect is that most adults have fixed mindsets which they transfer to students. He says that, for the growth mindset to be more effective, we need to do things differently.

First of all, he says, ditch the fixed mentality. Don’t see the problem as being with the student, see it in how or what is being taught. Adjust the teaching. (I’ve also mentioned this before here.)

  • Test less for grades and more to inform teaching
  • Provide feedback that supports student learning
  • Avoid grouping students by ability
  • Ask questions that require deep thinking
  • Stop talking!

In fact, what he is saying is that we need to practice the growth mindset, not just preach it.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Which brings me back to being industrious, putting in the effort, and responding to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story.

I’m thinking of putting in the effort as being industrious. I’m thinking of our impression of it and responses to it in others, particularly of the need to recognise where difficulties lie for students and how to praise to assist learning.

“Could do better”

The words blared from the page.

“Needs to try harder.”

Down through the years the judgement repeated.

“More effort required.”

No one tried to understand his unique way of seeing, his particular point of view.

“Doesn’t apply himself.”

He struggled to repeat their pointless words and perform their meaningless tasks.

“Needs to concentrate in class.”

Inside his head the images danced in brilliant choreography.

“He’ll never amount to anything.”

Outside their white noise words crackled a cacophony of dissonance.

Finally, school days done, they clamoured for the inspired works of the overnight success.

“Brilliant!” “Talented” “Exceptional!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.





The expectation of labels


1 (5)

In some circles labels can be used as an attempt to define who you are, either to yourself or to others; for example the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the technology you use, even the books you read. The use of labels can lead to stereotyping and expectations based upon particular characteristics while other, and equally salient, qualities specific to the individual are ignored.

Applying labels to children can serve similar purposes: to define and explain particular behaviours or characteristics. Labels can range from an informal “naughty” through to medical diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

Whether the result of an informal observation or a professional assessment, labels can have a profound effect upon a child and family members. The label sets up expectations that may limit the way the child is viewed; so that only those characteristics specific to the label are noticed and responded to. The child is viewed as being “the label” rather than an individual who displays those particular behaviours or characteristics, at this moment.

People tend to see what they want to see and ignore evidence that doesn’t support their thinking. So if a child is labelled disruptive, it is the disruptive behaviour which is noticed and acted upon. Similar behaviour in a child not bearing the label may be overlooked or excused. While the focus is on one, usually negative or limiting, behaviour other positive characteristics and strengths may be ignored.

pygmalion effect

Unfortunately, once a label is applied it is often difficult to remove and it may be used as an excuse for a child’s failure to learn or progress; after all the “fault” is considered to be with the child, not with any methods used or not used. Sadly too, labels can be misapplied or not fully understood. This may accentuate differences that are non-existent or less serious than the label implies.

However not all effects are negative. There are many positive effects of labelling a child’s condition or behaviour; including:

  • increased opportunities for the child, family and teachers to receive support through funding of programs, assistance of trained personnel and professional development
  • enhanced understanding through discussions using a common language with specific meanings and applications
  • increased awareness in the community with further opportunities for advocacy as well as greater acceptance and tolerance
  • the development of programs aimed specifically to support individuals with the condition.

But are all labels negative? What about giftedness?

Previously on this blog there has been some discussion about praise and the effects of different types of praise. The discussions were initiated in response to The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz and can be found here and here. Grosz suggested that praising a child could cause a loss of competence. Why would you continue to try if you were already “the best”?

Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck support the notion that Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance. They suggest that labels such as “smart”, “clever” and “intelligent” can be just as damaging as those with deficit connotations.

Dweck explains her ideas more fully in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, my current audiobook “read”. I have previously mentioned Dweck’s theory of ‘yethere and here.

In the book Dweck talks about how praise creates mindset. If one is praised for being smart or clever, then one develops a fixed mindset: “I am smart. I can achieve because I am smart.” If effort is required then one is not smart. Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges that might jeopardise the view of themselves as smart.

On the other hand, praise for effort encourages a ‘yet’ or growth mindset: if I try it again, try harder, try it a different way, then I will do better. “I can learn”. There is no risk of becoming ‘not clever’. A growth mindset recognises the importance of effort, persistence and motivation.

fixed - growth mindset

Dweck says “don’t praise the genius – praise the process”.

Giftedness” is a label that was once applied after achieving a high result on an intelligence test, and was just as sticky as any other: there for life.  Giftedness was considered stable and unchangeable. It is obvious that many “gifted” students could fall into the fixed mindset trap. Thanks to Dweck’s work on mindset, attitudes to IQ scores and the concept of “giftedness” are now changing.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Students can be encouraged to develop a growth mindset by learning about how the brain works. When they understand that labels aren’t fixed and that learning can be improved, they will become more confident and may find more enjoyment in some of the challenges that school offers. Encouraging students to recognise how they view themselves as learners and to substitute “growth” for “fixed” thinking will have a remarkable effect upon their confidence and success.

Encouraging this growth mindset may be one way we can look out for each other, one way of “getting your back”.

To write a story (in 99 words, no more no less) about a character who is called to have the back of another was the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. In her post Charli is talking about labels of another kind, labels that can be just as damaging or just as useful. She talks about having another’s back, being there to offer support when needed.  A parent, a teacher, a friend can be there at any time to offer support for a learner on their path to discovery. My response captures one such moment.

Growth: a mindset

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

“You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.” (Rita Pierson)

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .  

“You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.”

Recently I came across this great TED talk by Rita Pierson “Every kid needs a champion”.

Rita’s entire life centred around education. Her parents and her mother’s parents were teachers, and she was a teacher.

She observed numerous teachers at work – some of the best and some of the worst – and believed that relationships are the key to learning.

She said that

 “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

Rita spoke about having classes of students whose academic level was so low she wondered how she could “raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time”.

One year she told her students

“You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us together so we could show everybody else how to do it.”

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .

She talked about giving a student a +2 with a smiley face for getting 2 out 20 questions correct. She encouraged the student by saying

“you’re on a roll . . . and when we review this, won’t you do better?”

The student agreed “I can do better”.

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .

Rita told of her mother’s past students expressing their gratitude for the difference she made in their lives, saying

“You made me feel like I was somebody, when I knew, at the bottom, I wasn’t. And I want you to just see what I’ve become.”

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .

She tells us that teachers won’t always like all the children they teach, but it’s important that the children never know it. Acting is part of the role description!

She says that

“Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .  

Go ahead and listen to this inspirational talk. It will take less than 8 minutes listening time but its effect will be more lasting. It has already had more than 2 600 000 views. Why not add one more to the total. I’m certain you won’t regret it.

I can find nothing to dispute in Rita’s talk. I’d like to underline every word and make it compulsory viewing for all aspiring and practising educators in any field.

Affirmation, encouragement, praise . . .  helpful or harmful?

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts below.

Refer to these previous posts for discussions on self-esteem, affirmations and praise:

Happy being me

Affirmations: How good are they?

Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited

Examining praise: Stephen Grosz – the third instalment (guest post by Anne Goodwin)

I came across this talk on a great educational website edutopia. It was included in a Five-Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection. Check the others out. You may find something else to inspire you.

Sadly Rita Pierson passed away in June 2013. I’m grateful that we may continue to share the strength of her wisdom through her appearance with TED.

Click here to find out more about Rita and to read a tribute posted by Tedstaff.

“You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.” (Rita Pierson)

Let’s make sure it’s the good stuff that learners everywhere are hearing!

Examining praise: Stephen Grosz – the third instalment!

Guest post by Anne Goodwin (Annethology)

Earlier this year, after reading 7 Reasons Why Lovers of Fiction Should Read The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz on Anne Goodwin’s writing blog, I decided the book sounded too good to resist and promptly listened to it as an audiobook on my commute to and from work.

I was delighted with Anne’s recommendation, and like her, found the book compelling reading and thought provoking. So much so that I wrote a post about it: A book worth reading: Stephen Grosz “The Examined Life”.

However the chapter that captured my attention and challenged my thinking more than any other was the one about praise. I also blogged about this: Seeking praise: Stephen Grosz revisited.

My post about praise got Anne Goodwin thinking further about this issue and she was able to delve into it more deeply with her background in psychology. She has very generously written this guest post to share her thoughts.

Thanks Anne – over to you:

Although I was enchanted by The Examined Life from the first page, I glossed over the chapter on praise. Reading primarily for the parallels between these therapeutic case studies and reading and writing fiction, I didn’t stop to analyse my reaction, to acknowledge I was challenged by the suggestion that praise could be detrimental. Perhaps I dismissed this chapter as a reaction to the rarefied atmosphere of that cosy part of North London that is the hub of British psychoanalysis. In my neck of the woods, as reflected in my flash fiction piece, Peace-and-Quiet Pancake, I’m more concerned about a shortage of praise and encouragement than an excess.

I was initially disappointed when Norah mentioned on Twitter that, with over thirty chapters to choose from, she’d decided to blog about the chapter on praise. Yet her wonderful post showed me what I’d missed in my initial (defensive) reading and inspired me to go back to the book and ponder the depths of wisdom within those four and a half pages for myself.

“Stephen Grosz calls into question where our ideas of good practice originate.”

In suggesting we rethink what’s best for our children, Stephen Grosz calls into question where our ideas of good practice originate. We tend to respond to the mistakes of our forebears by striving to do the opposite, so those of us who suffered from a dearth of praise ourselves might be inclined to lavish praise on the next generation. Yet we can become so fixated on turning our backs on the approaches we know from experience to be unhelpful, we’re blinded to the potential pitfalls of the alternative path. Cutting back on praise feels treacherous, like siding with the harsh disciplinarians of days gone by. Stephen Grosz points us towards a third way.

“Behavioural strategies are invaluable for introducing the necessary structures and routines in which children can prosper and learn.”

Behavioural psychology shows that targeted rewards, either tangible, or intangible like praise, increase the frequency of desired behaviours. Rewards are actually most effective when they’re doled out intermittently, which might be one argument (although not the author’s) for soft-pedalling on the praise. Behavioural strategies are invaluable for introducing the necessary structures and routines in which children can prosper and learn. However, they can also result in the over-controlled and compliant child, one who is well versed in pleasing adults but struggles to think for him or herself.

“Stephen Grosz suggests that parents and educators can become as addicted to praise as these children.”

Stephen Grosz suggests that parents and educators can become as addicted to praise as these children. The mother who continually tells her child she is good might be vicariously praising herself. Underlying this might be a lack of confidence in her own parenting skills and a difficulty accepting her child as a separate person, with potentially different values and preferences. This is unlikely to enhance the child’s confidence and self-esteem.

“He also cautions us to be wary of praising children for what they are rather than for what they do.”

He also cautions us to be wary of praising children for what they are rather than for what they do. He cites a study in which, consistent with attribution theory, children praised for their effort rather than their intelligence, developed a more positive approach to problem solving. We can always put in more effort, but if we believe success is down to stable and unchangeable factors we might be less resilient in the face of the failure we will all, however talented, meet at some point in our lives.

“a third position where the adult is benignly attentive to the child and curious about what he/she is doing.”

What the author recommends is not a return to a pedagogy of threat and punishment, but a third position where the adult is benignly attentive to the child and curious about what he/she is doing. The child who believes that an adult is genuinely interested in their ideas, thoughts and feelings, is likely to develop a strong sense of agency and self-worth. While this might seem a radical approach, it’s not dissimilar to the behaviour of a tuned-in mother who watches over and mirrors her baby’s moves. It’s also the stance taken by the psychoanalytically orientated psychotherapist.

This is familiar ground for me, but I didn’t recognise it on an initial reading. Having already decided I loved the book from hearing snippets on the radio, I was reading it for what I could praise. I hope it wasn’t empty praise, but I was unwilling to engage with parts that were hard to swallow. On the second reading, my stance flipped to critical, almost punitive, focusing more on what was missing from the chapter than what was actually there. Now this process of putting my thoughts into words has brought me towards the position of curiosity and attentiveness I wish I’d had first time round. Whilst other readers might be less defensive, it does make me wonder, if it’s a struggle to reach this position in relation to a text, how difficult might it be to apply this learning in the real world and on a larger scale?

“While parents, politicians and educationalists might all claim to value individual expression and personal growth, this has to be weighed against an equally strong pressure for the achievement of standardised performance goals.”

On a sociopolitical level, we might resist this understanding because of conflicting views as to what education is for. While parents, politicians and educationalists might all claim to value individual expression and personal growth, this has to be weighed against an equally strong pressure for the achievement of standardised performance goals.

On the individual level, as Stephen Grosz says in his final paragraph, being present with others is hard work. Therapists have their own therapy in addition to training and supervision; parents striving to do a similar job with only their experience of their own parenting to draw on could struggle to find the position of attentiveness beyond both praise and chastisement.

“Children who have never been praised, even for attributes outside their control, might have no concept of their own ability to impact on their environment.”

Furthermore, for the child entering school knowing only neglect and criticism, a teacher’s benign curiosity could be experienced as threatening, just as the neutrality of therapist can provoke anxiety in his or her client. Children who have never been praised, even for attributes outside their control, might have no concept of their own ability to impact on their environment. Does the busy classroom teacher have the resources to be truly present with them in the way they require?

Thanks, Norah, for challenging me to revisit this chapter and for the invitation to rework my comment into a guest post. For those who’ve had the patience to stay present this far, I look forward to your reactions.

Thank you Anne for the insight and challenge you have offered with much for us to think about.

I reiterate Anne’s invitation for you, the reader, to share your thoughts on this topic, and suggest you head on over to Anne Goodwin’s writing blog (Annethology) for a great assortment of interesting fare.