Can Everyone Be Smart at Everything?

| November 4, 2011 | 107 Comments
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Flickr:Saxtouri

Recent studies question the theory of native intelligences. If they have to work hard, does that mean they're not smart?

When a student gets a good grade, wins an award, or proudly holds up a painting, we all know by now that we’re not supposed to say, “Good job!” Praising the achievement rather than the effort will backfire.

To a kid, “Good job” means “You’re smart” or “You’re talented” — the praise goes to inherent, natural-born abilities or intelligence. But that immediate spark of self-pride will turn into deep self-doubt when the child invariably comes across a bigger challenge and doesn’t immediately succeed.

Kids who are praised for their intelligence end up caring more about grades, trophies, and awards than those who are praised for their effort, according to the famous 1998 Stanford report “Effects of Intelligence and Effort Praise” by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck. The study showed that “after failure, [kids] also displayed less task persistence, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance than children praised for effort.”

Kids might think that if they have to work hard at something, that must mean they’re not smart. “It’s a theory about how the world works.”

But there’s another byproduct: children praised for intelligence “described it as a fixed trait more than children praised for hard work, who believed it to be subject to improvement.”

Why is that such a bad thing? Because telling kids they’re smart when they get good grades encourages them to continue focusing on the grade rather than the learning process. They just want to keep being smart.

BEYOND SMARTS

In more recent years, research on how the brain learns is building on those studies. “How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do,” writes author Annie Murphy Paul in a recent Time column. “Our knowledge and our abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process: call it our learning quotient.”

The idea that anyone can learn, regardless of their inherent IQ — with emphasis on the process, the work, the effort — is at the heart of the work of Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

Mendoza-Denton extends the idea that what’s harmful about emphasis on achievement and intelligence can also be applied to emphasis on learning styles (audio, visual) or “multiple intelligences,” a theory by Harvard professor Howard Gardner who distinguishes between different kinds of learners: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, and so on.

Mendoza-Denton believes that emphasizing “native intelligences” reinforces the belief that kids are good at some things and, conversely, bad at others.

“It’s pervasive in our cultural narrative,” Mendoza-Denton said at the recent Innovative Learning Conference. “‘I’m not this kind of learner or that kind of learner. I’m good at words, but not math.’”

Taking that idea one step further, kids might think that if they have to work hard at something, that must mean they’re not smart. “It’s a theory about how the world works,” he said.

A recent story on NPR somewhat backs up Mendoza-Denton’s theories. Although “an entire industry has sprouted based on learning styles,” a review of learning style studies led psychologist Doug Rohrer to believe that there is “no scientific evidence backing up the idea.”

“We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these, and until such evidence exists, we don’t recommend that they be used,” he told NPR.

Another researcher added more nuance. In a recent story by California Watch, a researcher questions the effects of calling out native abilities. “Clearly, people have distinctive abilities and aptitudes. Some people have higher visual ability, and some have higher auditory ability,” said UCSD professor Hal Pashler, lead author on the report. “But the question is whether that predicts anything about the most effective way to teach them. … There is a complete lack of evidence of the sort.”

This has caused a big debate in education circles by those who question the motivation of those debunking learning styles. But Mendoza-Denton maintains that reinforcing the idea that effort and elbow grease are as important or more than innate smarts will place kids on the best path of learning.

“Instead of saying, ‘I’m not good at math, why bother trying,’ she’ll say, ‘I didn’t study enough, so I should try harder,’” Mendoza-Denton said. “The meaning of difficulty changes. Difficulty means trying harder, trying a different strategy. They understand that change is possible, and progress occurs over time.”

“The meaning of difficulty changes. Difficulty means trying harder, trying a different strategy. They understand that change is possible, and progress occurs over time.”

And just as importantly, that mistakes are part of good learning. As a Wired article recently reported about why some are more effective at learning from mistakes, “the important part is what happens next.” People with a “growth mindset” — those who “believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy” — were significantly better at learning from their mistakes.

This also touches on social justice issues, of course, that bring up stereotype beliefs about gender and race — Asians are better at math, girls are worse at math, African Americans don’t do well on tests like the SAT. Mendoza-Denton cited a number of studies that showed students live up (or down) to the expectations set for them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

All of this is not to say that people don’t have specific talents, he said. “People have aptitudes that are undeniable,” he said. “We can’t all be geniuses, but we can all access learning.”

So what should parents and teachers take away from this? What we might consider ancillary to learning — things like bonding with the teacher or mentor, words of praise about working hard over good grades — are actually crucial to achievement. “Simple things can affect achievement in a deep way,” he said.

All of this raises further questions. What values about learning do we want for our kids? Is it important for them to be naturally smart to be ultimately successful? What does this say about our school assessments? How do we measure and define “achievement” without grades? More food for thought.
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  • Teacher

    The epigenetic model- a model that shows the interactive relatedness of nature and nurture is the best one I have seen. I think we need to acknowledge that we all have innate capacities that are either supported or diminished by our environment. There are limits to these but hard work, enrichment and support can certainly allow a weaker capacity to become stronger. What does become problematic is when adults do not have an appreciation of learning differences. I like the Einstein quote on this matter. “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      I’m not sure how you’re using epigentics in the context of child development or learning approaches. Epigenetic modification of DNA, such as DNA methylation or histone deacetyation are seen in gene expression early in cellular differentiation, so there is a sort of “nurture versus nature” going on early in gestation that turn some genes on and some off. But I’ve never heard it used in the context you’re using it. Could you explain how epigenetics applies to learning approaches? Thanks.

      • Teacher

        The basis for using epigenetics in this context is to get away from Nature OR Nuture and to embrace Nature AND Nuture.

        The idea is that genes do hold capacities that are either realized to a continuum of extents based on what nourishment they receive. My point is you can enrich capacities but sometimes there are genetic limitations that even nurture cannot change. This is why treating a student with severe dyslexia the same as a student with out this genetic make-up is inappropriate.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

          The nature versus nurture paradigm is well accepted in science, and embraced by popular culture. The either/or argument has long since become passé. But I guess illustrating the general principle for emphasis, by using epigenetics, is reasonable and novel, albeit unnecessary and slightly misleading.

          The thing is, however, epigenetics doesn’t necessarily operate on the basis of the sort of “nourishment” you’re suggesting. Two exquisite examples of epigenetics are Angelman Syndrome, and Prader-Willi Syndrome, which have to do with gene imprinting due to various gene deletions  or inactivations (DNA methylation) of a given sequence of nucleotides, where the gene expression of the inappropriate parent gene sequence is demonstrated, resulting in pathology.

          My point is that epigenetics is a very specific process in genetics that occurs in the earliest cell divisions of an organism. And in the process, while the underlying DNA is not altered, the epigenetic process generally determines gene expression throughout the organism’s lifetime. Thus, there is nothing that can occur later in the organism’s life that can ameliorate these very early modifications in DNA expression. So those epigenetic changes are not really subject to the “nurture” influences, per se. Which isn’t to say that nurture cannot play a role in the organism’s (i.e., human’s) as a whole; it’s just not with respect to an epigenetic changes.

          I think I’m beating this dead horse well beyond recognition.

          • Teacher

            I agree!

      • Teacher

        The basis for using epigenetics in this context is to get away from Nature OR Nuture and to embrace Nature AND Nuture.

        The idea is that genes do hold capacities that are either realized to a continuum of extents based on what nourishment they receive. My point is you can enrich capacities but sometimes there are genetic limitations that even nurture cannot change. This is why treating a student with severe dyslexia the same as a student with out this genetic make-up is inappropriate.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      I’m not sure how you’re using epigentics in the context of child development or learning approaches. Epigenetic modification of DNA, such as DNA methylation or histone deacetyation are seen in gene expression early in cellular differentiation, so there is a sort of “nurture versus nature” going on early in gestation that turn some genes on and some off. But I’ve never heard it used in the context you’re using it. Could you explain how epigenetics applies to learning approaches? Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/edubr Eduardo Briceño

    Thank you Tina for another great article.  We can never know what someone’s potential is.  There are lots of examples of people perceived as “weak”, like, for example, albert einstein, as he was not a “good student” in high school, or Wilma Rudolph, whose mom was told she’d never walk (polio) and had immense trouble moving as a child, then through immense determination went on to become the fastest woman on Earth.

    What we believe of students and the corresponding messages we send them (explicitly or implicitly), change the way they see themselves.  If we have limited views of their potential, we limit them.  The truth is, we never know what someone’s potential may be, and we know that deliberate practice can lead to amazing things. So if we focus on the process of learning we give everyone the opportunity to grow, and since it’s not about the end result but about the process, everyone can be successful and fulfilled by engaging in continuous improvement and lifelong learning.  The growth process is the reward.

    For people interested in instilling this growth mindset understanding in kids, check out our growth mindset blended curriculum and professional development resources, developed by Carol Dweck, Lisa Blackwell and others, at http://www.brainology.us/

    Cheers,
    Ed

  • Med kharbach

    This is a great article by all means , Thank you Tina for investing time and effort to do it.I have just one little remark on your writing style, I think the ideas were not organized in such a coherent way that the reader does not feel there is an abyss between paragraphs and probably if there is a prior outline to writing would correct the problem.

  • Med kharbach

    This is a great article by all means , Thank you Tina for investing time and effort to do it.I have just one little remark on your writing style, I think the ideas were not organized in such a coherent way that the reader does not feel there is an abyss between paragraphs and probably if there is a prior outline to writing would correct the problem.

  • Christina Lordeman

    I definitely think ed schools spend too much time talking about catering to each student’s learning style, but it also drives me crazy when people throw Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences into that same box.  Intelligences (a la Gardner) are NOT the same as “learning styles.”

  • http://twitter.com/KathyDShields kathy shields

    Your article touched on many aspects of learning.  While my experience supports the notion that hard work will lead to improvement if it is meaningfully guided and directed, more so, than praising inherent intelligence, I still have questions. Where is a student’s motivation for doing the work they dislike? Eduardo speaks of deliberate practice. Self-disciplined students seem to understand this concept. When students begin the school year from a fall-back position, what does research show about engendering intrinsic motivation to help them succeed? What I’m hearing is a refrain I heard growing up, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” or “I think I can, I think I can…” Teaching our students the value of hard work in a time of great excess was difficult.  Perhaps in our new economy, students will realize that effort is the key to success not simply in the classroom but throughout life.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      I think the article acknowledges the propensities of people, which may explain why some people are better at doing things than others. Michael Jordan may have had great innate physical abilities, but it was his long hours in the gym that honed those innate skills, i.e., Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (to become an expert).

      However, what I believe is being advocated in the article is to develop one’s learning approaches, which makes sense if you think about it. For example, if innate intelligence is unalterable, then why would you waste your time praising a thing a child has no control over (i.e., if it’s true that intelligence can neither improve nor worsen with encouragement or negative criticism, respectively)? Hard work, dedication, perseverance, on the other hand, are things that can be controlled. (However, I’d argue that genius, or one’s expertise, is better seen as one’s dedication, rather than what one is born with.)

      The best reason to develop one’s learning, and academic coping, skills is the transition from the secondary school setting, to the college setting. Many students, who perform well because of their innate intelligence often fail when they reach the college level; it’s in college where they’re competing at a higher level, with peers equal to, or greater than, their own innate abilities. In college, the most successful students are those who spend more time on difficult concepts.

      In the sciences, getting through lower division science courses involves taking courses you may have little interest in. Thus, performing well in those courses are often a function of hard work and determination, rather than innate ability. And if you visit our colleges, you’ll find that the most successful science students, are the foreign students (and home grown Asian kids) who, at least in the sciences, seem to have developed excellent study skills, and various approaches to learning new information.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      I think the article acknowledges the propensities of people, which may explain why some people are better at doing things than others. Michael Jordan may have had great innate physical abilities, but it was his long hours in the gym that honed those innate skills, i.e., Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (to become an expert).

      However, what I believe is being advocated in the article is to develop one’s learning approaches, which makes sense if you think about it. For example, if innate intelligence is unalterable, then why would you waste your time praising a thing a child has no control over (i.e., if it’s true that intelligence can neither improve nor worsen with encouragement or negative criticism, respectively)? Hard work, dedication, perseverance, on the other hand, are things that can be controlled. (However, I’d argue that genius, or one’s expertise, is better seen as one’s dedication, rather than what one is born with.)

      The best reason to develop one’s learning, and academic coping, skills is the transition from the secondary school setting, to the college setting. Many students, who perform well because of their innate intelligence often fail when they reach the college level; it’s in college where they’re competing at a higher level, with peers equal to, or greater than, their own innate abilities. In college, the most successful students are those who spend more time on difficult concepts.

      In the sciences, getting through lower division science courses involves taking courses you may have little interest in. Thus, performing well in those courses are often a function of hard work and determination, rather than innate ability. And if you visit our colleges, you’ll find that the most successful science students, are the foreign students (and home grown Asian kids) who, at least in the sciences, seem to have developed excellent study skills, and various approaches to learning new information.

  • http://twitter.com/KathyDShields kathy shields

    Your article touched on many aspects of learning.  While my experience supports the notion that hard work will lead to improvement if it is meaningfully guided and directed, more so, than praising inherent intelligence, I still have questions. Where is a student’s motivation for doing the work they dislike? Eduardo speaks of deliberate practice. Self-disciplined students seem to understand this concept. When students begin the school year from a fall-back position, what does research show about engendering intrinsic motivation to help them succeed? What I’m hearing is a refrain I heard growing up, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” or “I think I can, I think I can…” Teaching our students the value of hard work in a time of great excess was difficult.  Perhaps in our new economy, students will realize that effort is the key to success not simply in the classroom but throughout life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kalyani-Rampilla/1317219766 Kalyani Rampilla

    Very enlightening. Honestly, children should be taught to put in optimum efforts and not just be allowed lame excuses like others being talented or lucky. Focusing and encouraging efforts is important.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kalyani-Rampilla/1317219766 Kalyani Rampilla

    Very enlightening. Honestly, children should be taught to put in optimum efforts and not just be allowed lame excuses like others being talented or lucky. Focusing and encouraging efforts is important.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-L/507901613 Tom L

    I would like to hear what parents and teachers are supposed to say in place of “good job!” since I find it hard to imagine them not saying this. “Great effort” sounds to me like consolation after not quite reaching the goal. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-L/507901613 Tom L

    I would like to hear what parents and teachers are supposed to say in place of “good job!” since I find it hard to imagine them not saying this. “Great effort” sounds to me like consolation after not quite reaching the goal. 

    • Dave

      Tom – I read an article similar to this several months ago and have consciously tried to shift praise to my children (7 & 3).  I found that while there isn’t one phrase that rolls off the tongue, it is acceptable to string out the praise over a sentence or two.  Something like ‘you worked really hard on x, and it paid off.  Great work!’ Or, it is great that you stuck with it and figured it out on your own, you are a good worker.’  ‘You really know how to get things done.’  ‘Good job in seeing this one through.’

      I am no expert, and there are countless other options, but it is in the spirit of the findings of this article. 

      Good luck!

    • Dave

      Tom – I read an article similar to this several months ago and have consciously tried to shift praise to my children (7 & 3).  I found that while there isn’t one phrase that rolls off the tongue, it is acceptable to string out the praise over a sentence or two.  Something like ‘you worked really hard on x, and it paid off.  Great work!’ Or, it is great that you stuck with it and figured it out on your own, you are a good worker.’  ‘You really know how to get things done.’  ‘Good job in seeing this one through.’

      I am no expert, and there are countless other options, but it is in the spirit of the findings of this article. 

      Good luck!

      • Marg

        I like your ideas! Surely one of the problems in sports now is a huge emphasis on “It’s not how you play the game, it’s only how you win.” Sportsmanship means congratulating the winners and congratulating those who played but didn’t win. It means giving the game your all and being able to learn from defeat too!

        So, good for you when you say: “Your work paid off! Just don’t stop trying.  I’m glad you practiced! Give it another try. I can see you put a lot of thought into this. I’m impressed you did this on your own! ”

      • Marg

        I like your ideas! Surely one of the problems in sports now is a huge emphasis on “It’s not how you play the game, it’s only how you win.” Sportsmanship means congratulating the winners and congratulating those who played but didn’t win. It means giving the game your all and being able to learn from defeat too!

        So, good for you when you say: “Your work paid off! Just don’t stop trying.  I’m glad you practiced! Give it another try. I can see you put a lot of thought into this. I’m impressed you did this on your own! ”

    • CPJC

      “That turned out really good!  I can tell/know how much effort you put into this.”

    • Sheila

      “Good job” is rather meaningless. It is equivalent to asking someone in a hallway, “How are you?”. The question is not to illicit conversation but rather a nicety. Just as “good job” is a phrase used repeatedly with children as something to say or as a transition.  It is not meaningful or specific or effective. Often children ignore these non descript phrases. Personally, I do believe we praise effort and not outcome. It is the motivation for many children to keep trying in the face of adversity. However, whatever form of praise you believe in, make it specific to the learner. Take the time to think about what you want to say.  The impact is powerful. Students know when you mean something and when you don’t. Just ask someone to think about a positive comment made to them from there childhood. It will not be something general, but something personal about them, their effort, hard work, something they too were proud  of. The words we use matter. choose them carefully

    • Mrs.M

      For people who really want to change the habit of issuing a meaningless “Good job!”, there are excellent lists of motivational phrases. They include things like, “I can tell you worked hard on this,” “Thank you for doing your very best,” “Look at your neat handwriting,” et cetera. As a teacher, I find I get better results the more specific my praise is: “I noticed you included a detail about the way the clay smells. That’s very observant,” is much more effective than “Good job.”

    • Mrs.M

      For people who really want to change the habit of issuing a meaningless “Good job!”, there are excellent lists of motivational phrases. They include things like, “I can tell you worked hard on this,” “Thank you for doing your very best,” “Look at your neat handwriting,” et cetera. As a teacher, I find I get better results the more specific my praise is: “I noticed you included a detail about the way the clay smells. That’s very observant,” is much more effective than “Good job.”

    • Steve

      Hi Tom – As a Professional Developer, I work with teachers to provide feedback that is specific, abundant, and during the learning.  If I child receives a “Good Job” on a report that contains research, student created charts, annotations, bibliography…whatever, he/she deserves specific praise as to which parts of the project were indeed good.
      “Sally, did a great job of following the written directions.  See how you color-coded your work, just like instructed?  Nicely done.”

      versus… “Nice work, Sally.”

    • Steve

      Hi Tom – As a Professional Developer, I work with teachers to provide feedback that is specific, abundant, and during the learning.  If I child receives a “Good Job” on a report that contains research, student created charts, annotations, bibliography…whatever, he/she deserves specific praise as to which parts of the project were indeed good.
      “Sally, did a great job of following the written directions.  See how you color-coded your work, just like instructed?  Nicely done.”

      versus… “Nice work, Sally.”

    • Khannah

      “I like the way you are thinking!”  I like the way you were able to…”   Then we ask the kids how they feel…  They can say they did a great job and we can reinforce their thinking.  This lays the ground work for intrinsic motivation and the building up of self!!!  They have to believe it first.

    • Khannah

      “I like the way you are thinking!”  I like the way you were able to…”   Then we ask the kids how they feel…  They can say they did a great job and we can reinforce their thinking.  This lays the ground work for intrinsic motivation and the building up of self!!!  They have to believe it first.

  • Kelly

    Christina Lordeman, I liked your post based on the ed school focus on unsupported hypotheses, but I would also put Gardner’s theory in that same box. It seems to not just be unsupported by evidence, but actually falsified–that is, if Gardner’s theory isn’t an unfalsifiable tautology.

    I changed careers to teaching (from engineering) 6 years ago, and I was pleased to be told in my education classes that educators generally strive to base their best practices on scientific evidence. Since then I’ve found that it is far from the truth–pedagogical approaches like “multiple learning styles” seem to mostly be based on what education professors *want* to be true, rather than what actually is true.

    I have seen many students who struggled early in the term with the subject I teach (physics) but who worked very hard at improving their understanding, and through that work, learned how to learn physics, and excelled in my class later in the term. Far more students seem to just give up, with the excuse “I’m not good at physics” and that self-fulfilling prophecy leads them to failure.

    • Vicky

      Are you my physics teacher?!

    • Vicky

      Are you my physics teacher?!

      • Kelly

        I doubt it, since I don’t currently have any students named Vicky or Victoria. Did you go to Madison East?

      • Kelly

        I doubt it, since I don’t currently have any students named Vicky or Victoria. Did you go to Madison East?

        • Vicky

          No, I live in Mississippi.  My physics teacher used to do demos before she became a physics teacher, and she doesn’t at all believe in the different learning styles.  Her method is to give us tons of homework that keeps us up past midnight, let us figure out how to do it, and then show us how to work it the next day.  By the time a test comes around, we’ve worked so many problems that we know the material backwards and forwards!

          Also, my name isn’t really Vicky ;D

          • victoria

            I just realized, you may be talking about the Madison that is in Mississippi.  If so, you might actually KNOW my physics teacher!

          • Kelly

            No, Madison Wisconsin, and I teach with a very different method. I rarely show students how to work problems–they have to prepare whiteboards of the problems themselves, and then present them to the class. If they don’t have it right, then great! The class can help them figure a way through it. Only rarely will I guide them, usually only if they’re off on a tangent that won’t be fruitful.

            I’ve heard some amazing discussions of physics ideas with this method–discussions that would simply not come up if I were just going over how to solve problems. That method also assumes that the point of taking a physics class is to learn how to solve problems. It really isn’t–it is to learn how the universe works, and what mathematical models might best describe how it works.

          • Kelly

            No, Madison Wisconsin, and I teach with a very different method. I rarely show students how to work problems–they have to prepare whiteboards of the problems themselves, and then present them to the class. If they don’t have it right, then great! The class can help them figure a way through it. Only rarely will I guide them, usually only if they’re off on a tangent that won’t be fruitful.

            I’ve heard some amazing discussions of physics ideas with this method–discussions that would simply not come up if I were just going over how to solve problems. That method also assumes that the point of taking a physics class is to learn how to solve problems. It really isn’t–it is to learn how the universe works, and what mathematical models might best describe how it works.

        • Vicky

          No, I live in Mississippi.  My physics teacher used to do demos before she became a physics teacher, and she doesn’t at all believe in the different learning styles.  Her method is to give us tons of homework that keeps us up past midnight, let us figure out how to do it, and then show us how to work it the next day.  By the time a test comes around, we’ve worked so many problems that we know the material backwards and forwards!

          Also, my name isn’t really Vicky ;D

  • Kelly

    Christina Lordeman, I liked your post based on the ed school focus on unsupported hypotheses, but I would also put Gardner’s theory in that same box. It seems to not just be unsupported by evidence, but actually falsified–that is, if Gardner’s theory isn’t an unfalsifiable tautology.

    I changed careers to teaching (from engineering) 6 years ago, and I was pleased to be told in my education classes that educators generally strive to base their best practices on scientific evidence. Since then I’ve found that it is far from the truth–pedagogical approaches like “multiple learning styles” seem to mostly be based on what education professors *want* to be true, rather than what actually is true.

    I have seen many students who struggled early in the term with the subject I teach (physics) but who worked very hard at improving their understanding, and through that work, learned how to learn physics, and excelled in my class later in the term. Far more students seem to just give up, with the excuse “I’m not good at physics” and that self-fulfilling prophecy leads them to failure.

  • Andy Fly little words, fly!

    In examining Montessori practices, there are clear guidelines as to how to measure achievement through mastery of concepts and personal development without grades. The child develops intrinsic motivation because there is no external standard to which they must play, and the assessment is much deeper, more personal and far more meaningful, in terms of describing actual achievements and development. This practice is obviously most effective if children experience life that way from the youngest age possible.

    As a Montessori child, I was shocked to have trouble when I reached a calculus class in my public high school that was unusually advanced. It was the first time I had trouble with Math, and that experience showed me that math does not actually come easily to me (yes, I can do it, but I have to work for it), I still scored at the 88th percentile on my SAT’s. Having not practiced mathematics regularly, I now have trouble with simple tasks, such as calculating tips. But that did not stop me from achieving what I did achieve when I was in practice and working at it. That is one example of how intrinsic motivation and a belief in one’s ability to learn (period) can affect the realities we face, and have direct consequence on our potential futures.

  • Andy Fly little words, fly!

    In examining Montessori practices, there are clear guidelines as to how to measure achievement through mastery of concepts and personal development without grades. The child develops intrinsic motivation because there is no external standard to which they must play, and the assessment is much deeper, more personal and far more meaningful, in terms of describing actual achievements and development. This practice is obviously most effective if children experience life that way from the youngest age possible.

    As a Montessori child, I was shocked to have trouble when I reached a calculus class in my public high school that was unusually advanced. It was the first time I had trouble with Math, and that experience showed me that math does not actually come easily to me (yes, I can do it, but I have to work for it), I still scored at the 88th percentile on my SAT’s. Having not practiced mathematics regularly, I now have trouble with simple tasks, such as calculating tips. But that did not stop me from achieving what I did achieve when I was in practice and working at it. That is one example of how intrinsic motivation and a belief in one’s ability to learn (period) can affect the realities we face, and have direct consequence on our potential futures.

    • Khannah

      Nice comment, Andy!  I was a Montessori teacher for 6 years but in a public school setting where grades were required.  It was challenging to “meet the child where they are” and give them a grade based on grade level material.  Grades, to me, are way to superficial.  It is depressing to me when parents pressure their children to obtain above average grades when they may simply be average.  At what point did average become so negative?

    • Khannah

      Nice comment, Andy!  I was a Montessori teacher for 6 years but in a public school setting where grades were required.  It was challenging to “meet the child where they are” and give them a grade based on grade level material.  Grades, to me, are way to superficial.  It is depressing to me when parents pressure their children to obtain above average grades when they may simply be average.  At what point did average become so negative?

  • Phaedra Donnovan

    Unfortunately, in the real world, you do not receive a paycheck for the effort you put into a job.  You receive a paycheck for getting results.  If you do not achieve the desired result, you won’t get paid no matter how hard you try.  The teacher isn’t going to give you an A for trying hard; they’re going to give you an A if you meet the requirements for the grade (ie. get all the answers right on a test).  Standardized tests are not interested in a child’s effort to answer the question or the process they used, standardized tests are only interested in the correct answer.  While it may not be the best psychological approach to use on children in school, better they grow up with this lesson than suffer potential psychological damage later when the truth hits home in their 20′s.  It seems to me to be an issue of the child’s ability to rebound emotionally from that “I’m not good enough” feeling they get for failing and not receiving positive reinforcement for trying.  Some people would become depressed and wallow in the self pity of “I failed, I’m not good enough, why try”, while others would be motivated: “I failed, I need to try harder next time.”  It seems to me that praising a failed process to circumvent reacting negatively to a failing result would lead a less disciplined child to learn “Oh well, as long as I can make them think I tried hard enough, it’ll be okay if I don’t actually achieve anything”, while one can assume the more disciplined child would think, “I failed.  I tried really hard and still failed.  I must have screwed up somewhere in the middle.  Gotta try harder.”  In time, it would appear we would live in a world that was satisfied with failure as long as the path to get there was sodden with effort. Perhaps it would be better not to reward either the process or the result, but to make the child understand how the process lead to the result regardless of success or failure, and make clear that the desired result must be achieved to constitute success.

    • Angela

      “Oh well, as long as I can make them think I tried hard enough, it’ll be okay if I don’t actually achieve anything”– do you realize what a complex thought process that is, and how much work would have to go into actually accomplishing this?  This child would go on to learn to persevere in the face of great adversity, and (in the end) achieve greatness while (in the process) appearing to blend in with the under-achieving minions!  Actual results in the workplace come from actual hard work– not from remembering the right answers.  I don’t know what world you’ve been living in, but the world “satisfied with failure as long as the path to get there was sodden with effort” appears to be the one we do live in, and those who thought they would succeed because of their ability to produce the “correct answers” are finding themselves frustrated and confused because they haven’t learned to think creatively to solve real problems.  Achieving the desired result doesn’t naturally constitute success– it simply prolongs the status quo.

    • Angela

      “Oh well, as long as I can make them think I tried hard enough, it’ll be okay if I don’t actually achieve anything”– do you realize what a complex thought process that is, and how much work would have to go into actually accomplishing this?  This child would go on to learn to persevere in the face of great adversity, and (in the end) achieve greatness while (in the process) appearing to blend in with the under-achieving minions!  Actual results in the workplace come from actual hard work– not from remembering the right answers.  I don’t know what world you’ve been living in, but the world “satisfied with failure as long as the path to get there was sodden with effort” appears to be the one we do live in, and those who thought they would succeed because of their ability to produce the “correct answers” are finding themselves frustrated and confused because they haven’t learned to think creatively to solve real problems.  Achieving the desired result doesn’t naturally constitute success– it simply prolongs the status quo.

    • notBuying

      this article is about how people gain expertise, not about what is expected from them after they have or have not gained the expertise.  this is about how to be skillful before you seek to monetize it. also, in the real world, living is the important thing and a variety of skills contribute to that; viewing yourself as a human resource is pathetic.

      • kidbooster

        You’ve successfully taken the simple point of the article and taken it to an extreme that over-exaggerates the contribution of effort–NOT expertise–that can lead (or not lead) to success.  The recognition of effort simply links success with the steps that lead one there.

    • notBuying

      this article is about how people gain expertise, not about what is expected from them after they have or have not gained the expertise.  this is about how to be skillful before you seek to monetize it. also, in the real world, living is the important thing and a variety of skills contribute to that; viewing yourself as a human resource is pathetic.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      Most scientists (myself included) enter fields of science because of an innate curiosity about the world and not necessarily a desire for success. But popular culture is fixated on the idea of scientists “hitting the home run,” which means coming up with that next seminal idea. The thing is that historically, although we want to see it differently in popular culture, that is not how science typically proceeds. In science, it is the hard (and collaborative) work (of many) that is ultimately rewarded; it’s not necessarily about one person being right about a central principle. Science is about truth; it’s about making observations, recording them, and developing and  test hypotheses that describe natural phenomenon. And being wrong also yields truth; just not necessarily the truth one may have initially envisioned. In the end, science advances in a sort of punctuated equilibrium; a slow forward process of many people, punctuated by the major discoveries of a few (who in no small measure owe their success to the past efforts of the many). If in science we were so easily defeated by being wrong, the fine works of many would be lost, since the truly great ideas rarely come into being fully developed or elucidated; they are modified over time with an increased understanding of the physical world.

      Also, empirically, we know that good grades do not necessarily result in innovation. And genius has often been obscured by poor school performance. The classic cases are,  Thomas Edison, who was once told by a teacher that he’d never be good at anything; Sir Isaac Newton, who did poorly in school and failed miserably in his early endeavors; Winston Churchill, who failed the 6th grade; Dick Cheney, who flunked out of Yale, twice; Vincent Van Gogh, who only sold one piece of art, and that was to a friend for a few dollars; Stephen King, who received 30 rejections for his first work, “Carrie.”

      Yes, in the real world, effort is rewarded.
      Yes, practice does beat a path to perfection.
      And yes, it’s fate and good fortune which rewards the vigilant.

    • http://twitter.com/HigherEdWriter Megan Murray

      Great point but I think you’re misinterpreting the idea of a growth mindset. It’s not about grading students based on effort (which I agree, would not work) it’s about explaining to them what the grade they earned means. Students aren’t rewarded for trying hard–the reward is still achieving the desired grade–what’s happening is that instead of being told, “Great job on earning that A, you’re so smart,” they’re being told, “Great job on earning that A, you must have worked really hard.” 

      Your final comment is actually exactly what the idea of a growth mindset promotes…

       ”Perhaps it would be better not to reward either the process or the result, but to make the child understand how the process lead to the result regardless of success or failure, and make clear that the desired result must be achieved to constitute success.” 

      Students learn that getting a bad grade doesn’t meant they’re stupid, and likewise, getting a good grade doesn’t mean they’re smart. Instead they begin to see grades as  a measure of their ability to master a concept–an ability that’s connected to how much effort they put into it. It’s motivating for high achieving students and as well as students who are performing below grade level because they begin to see the point to working hard and applying themselves. (High-performing students realize they still need to study  in order to keep achieving at high levels, while low-performing students realize they can improve if they apply themselves.)

      As a result, students being to understand that they aren’t just good at math or bad at math–the ability to master mathematical content isn’t some inborn trait–it’s something they learn. 

    • Anthony Kelly

      Way to miss the whole point.  Geez.

    • Anthony Kelly

      Way to miss the whole point.  Geez.

    • J Catania

      Yes, but the research contradicts what you are saying, yes?

    • J Catania

      Yes, but the research contradicts what you are saying, yes?

  • Phaedra Donnovan

    Unfortunately, in the real world, you do not receive a paycheck for the effort you put into a job.  You receive a paycheck for getting results.  If you do not achieve the desired result, you won’t get paid no matter how hard you try.  The teacher isn’t going to give you an A for trying hard; they’re going to give you an A if you meet the requirements for the grade (ie. get all the answers right on a test).  Standardized tests are not interested in a child’s effort to answer the question or the process they used, standardized tests are only interested in the correct answer.  While it may not be the best psychological approach to use on children in school, better they grow up with this lesson than suffer potential psychological damage later when the truth hits home in their 20′s.  It seems to me to be an issue of the child’s ability to rebound emotionally from that “I’m not good enough” feeling they get for failing and not receiving positive reinforcement for trying.  Some people would become depressed and wallow in the self pity of “I failed, I’m not good enough, why try”, while others would be motivated: “I failed, I need to try harder next time.”  It seems to me that praising a failed process to circumvent reacting negatively to a failing result would lead a less disciplined child to learn “Oh well, as long as I can make them think I tried hard enough, it’ll be okay if I don’t actually achieve anything”, while one can assume the more disciplined child would think, “I failed.  I tried really hard and still failed.  I must have screwed up somewhere in the middle.  Gotta try harder.”  In time, it would appear we would live in a world that was satisfied with failure as long as the path to get there was sodden with effort. Perhaps it would be better not to reward either the process or the result, but to make the child understand how the process lead to the result regardless of success or failure, and make clear that the desired result must be achieved to constitute success.

  • Mark Novak

    You need to invest time in something.  Belief in born abilities implies you can be good at something without working at it.  The sad reality is that 1000s of hour are needed to be really good and that time accumulated resting and basking in petty achievements.  Reasons Asians beat up so many of their peers in high school and college is because they do not believe in  fallacy of “God Gifts’.       

  • Abc987

    This is the biggest hunk of crap that I’ve ever heard. No wonder we are falling behind in education. 

  • Bombeck

    While the effort must surely be recognized, the achievement also deserves to be noted. You don’t praise a painter for their work without acknowledging the art that results. The problem is when we praise only the result and not the application our kids put forth to get there.

  • DentonMusEd

    Why does the approach have to be one or the other?  Children should ultimately receive praise both for making real effort and for achieving goals.  Perhaps the right way to go isn’t ‘you’re so smart’ or ‘you’re so great’ but ‘I knew you could do it.  There will be other challenges, and they will be difficult at first, but if you apply yourself you will probably succeed in those, too.’  That would be more realistic, balanced, and in some ways more encouraging. 

  • DentonMusEd

    Why does the approach have to be one or the other?  Children should ultimately receive praise both for making real effort and for achieving goals.  Perhaps the right way to go isn’t ‘you’re so smart’ or ‘you’re so great’ but ‘I knew you could do it.  There will be other challenges, and they will be difficult at first, but if you apply yourself you will probably succeed in those, too.’  That would be more realistic, balanced, and in some ways more encouraging. 

  • Michael

    Let’s make this simple. Effort is continuous. Achievements are discrete. Praise someone for effort while they’re making an effort, even before they actually achieve anything. In particular, use such praise to help someone recover during a set back. If the work becomes a specific, discrete achievement, great! Feel free to praise it. If not, keep praising the effort while the effort happens.

  • Michael

    Let’s make this simple. Effort is continuous. Achievements are discrete. Praise someone for effort while they’re making an effort, even before they actually achieve anything. In particular, use such praise to help someone recover during a set back. If the work becomes a specific, discrete achievement, great! Feel free to praise it. If not, keep praising the effort while the effort happens.

  • Godelgandler

    dont pressure children and drive them into lunacy   im 85 and speak from experience  life worth living is precious

  • Margaret Rooker

    I agree with this article. Learning styes aside, most learning requires plenty of effort. Effort cannot be graded, but without it, no child learns to walk, or read or calculate. Some may have to struggle longer to hit a tennis ball or run fast, but with effort everyone can learn far more than is commonly thought. Opportunity (including exposure and resources), motivation and time are the great variables. Too many people, children especially, are defeated by themselves before they even give themselves a chance. The “real” world is in need of people who dedicate themselves to effort and hard work, whether that includes ballet or scientific experiment, selling furniture, or reporting the news,

  • http://twitter.com/tsancio Tomas Sancio

    It’s harder to praise somebody for effort. That’s because you need
    to pay attention to the student’s process and be able to point out
    what made you think he/she made a good effort. Otherwise, they’ll
    think that you’re doing it to make them feel good.

    • Lclifton1

      Paying attention–that’s the key. Real attention means actually noticing what was done, and maybe just picking out the one thing that moved you or that was an advance for this student.  “You kicked the ball straighter this time.”  “This verb is really unusual, and made me chuckle.”  Specifics, and not scorekeeping, and not bland generalities.

  • http://twitter.com/tsancio Tomas Sancio

    It’s harder to praise somebody for effort. That’s because you need
    to pay attention to the student’s process and be able to point out
    what made you think he/she made a good effort. Otherwise, they’ll
    think that you’re doing it to make them feel good.

  • Dwight

    This is a great article. I am a retired educator. Over the course of a long career I came to believe that we (educators, parents, etc) must pay much more attention to effort and process. Sometimes students needed to be guided so that they truly understand what ‘effort’ means. When we comment on a student’s effort we do it more in the form of a dialogue rather than as a one-way comment. It becomes part of an ongoing discussion. I remember running across a cross-cultural study regarding the belief in intelligence vs. effort. In the study it was determined that Japanese parents had a much stronger belief in effort as opposed to natural intelligence in achievement at school. American parents had a much stronger belief in natural intelligence as opposed to effort in achievement at school. Harold Stevenson and James Stigler published a book in 1994 that explored some cross-cultural comparisons of belief in effort and native intelligence. The name of the book:
    The learning gap: why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese educationThe University of Pittsburgh Institute for Learning promotes effort-based education in their teacher preparation and in-service efforts.

  • Dwight

    This is a great article. I am a retired educator. Over the course of a long career I came to believe that we (educators, parents, etc) must pay much more attention to effort and process. Sometimes students needed to be guided so that they truly understand what ‘effort’ means. When we comment on a student’s effort we do it more in the form of a dialogue rather than as a one-way comment. It becomes part of an ongoing discussion. I remember running across a cross-cultural study regarding the belief in intelligence vs. effort. In the study it was determined that Japanese parents had a much stronger belief in effort as opposed to natural intelligence in achievement at school. American parents had a much stronger belief in natural intelligence as opposed to effort in achievement at school. Harold Stevenson and James Stigler published a book in 1994 that explored some cross-cultural comparisons of belief in effort and native intelligence. The name of the book:
    The learning gap: why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese educationThe University of Pittsburgh Institute for Learning promotes effort-based education in their teacher preparation and in-service efforts.

  • in da house

    My instincts tell me to write, “Great article,” but now I have doubts on making that comment. I guess I should say, “You worked really hard on this and I appreciate your effort.” As a parent to a 4 year old, this is quite provocative.

  • in da house

    My instincts tell me to write, “Great article,” but now I have doubts on making that comment. I guess I should say, “You worked really hard on this and I appreciate your effort.” As a parent to a 4 year old, this is quite provocative.

  • Mapejrano

    I believe people are born with different potentials, but then I think very few people are reared and educated in such a way as to come close to reaching their potential.  What this article adds to these ideas is the notion of the flexibility and adaptability of the human brain:  a child may not be born with a gift for mathematics, but manages to learn math anyway, through sheer effort.
    My daughter is in middle school.  She’s taken music lessons for five years, and is becoming a good musician; she’s developing as an artist; she’s doing well in school.  She has always received praise in exceedingly moderate doses and heard much sensible criticism of her efforts and her work.  What she has always had is the privilege of living in an environment of affection and respect and interest in her and her activities.  She’s a happy person.  All this talk about praise, correctly or incorrectly given, is somewhat misdirected.

  • Mapejrano

    I believe people are born with different potentials, but then I think very few people are reared and educated in such a way as to come close to reaching their potential.  What this article adds to these ideas is the notion of the flexibility and adaptability of the human brain:  a child may not be born with a gift for mathematics, but manages to learn math anyway, through sheer effort.
    My daughter is in middle school.  She’s taken music lessons for five years, and is becoming a good musician; she’s developing as an artist; she’s doing well in school.  She has always received praise in exceedingly moderate doses and heard much sensible criticism of her efforts and her work.  What she has always had is the privilege of living in an environment of affection and respect and interest in her and her activities.  She’s a happy person.  All this talk about praise, correctly or incorrectly given, is somewhat misdirected.

  • Aminus

    I think the concept is oversimplified. An intelligent child told that they are, “smart,” will fail at some point. The article suggests that this leads to meltdown. I think that before that dramatic conclusion is reached, the individual will become introspective. They might even figure out what went wrong. Children are individuals too. Believe it or not, they will be independent one day. I think parents are sometimes given too much credit.

  • Aminus

    I think the concept is oversimplified. An intelligent child told that they are, “smart,” will fail at some point. The article suggests that this leads to meltdown. I think that before that dramatic conclusion is reached, the individual will become introspective. They might even figure out what went wrong. Children are individuals too. Believe it or not, they will be independent one day. I think parents are sometimes given too much credit.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      Yours is a good point. But I don’t think the concept is being oversimplified. I think the concept is stated more in terms of best practices for the purpose of optimizing performance. Not that it will have guaranteed dire consequences if not heeded. And depending on the child, melt downs can occur; there are a significant number of kids who stop-out after their first year, because they were unprepared for the transition to a more rigorous academic setting. And it must be true that some student develop coping skills, such as introspection, that improve their likelihood of success. But why leave learning those coping skills up to chance, or the child’s happenstance internal voice. In short, it seems to make sense to reward hard work with praise, especially if innate intelligence is a predetermined quality.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      Yours is a good point. But I don’t think the concept is being oversimplified. I think the concept is stated more in terms of best practices for the purpose of optimizing performance. Not that it will have guaranteed dire consequences if not heeded. And depending on the child, melt downs can occur; there are a significant number of kids who stop-out after their first year, because they were unprepared for the transition to a more rigorous academic setting. And it must be true that some student develop coping skills, such as introspection, that improve their likelihood of success. But why leave learning those coping skills up to chance, or the child’s happenstance internal voice. In short, it seems to make sense to reward hard work with praise, especially if innate intelligence is a predetermined quality.

  • nina

    “or “multiple intelligences,” a theory by Harvard professor Howard Gardner who distinguishes between different kinds of learners: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, and so on…”Like Christina Lordeman, I’d also like to point out that Howard Gardners theory of “multiple intelligences” is not about learning styles! That’s what a lot of people use it for, oversimplifying the original work!It is a concept to broaden the perspective on intelligence, it is so much more than a mysterious amount of IQ, that you happen to have or not have… According to Gardner there are eight areas of intelligence and everybody has got them all, in their own way and uses them during each day in various combinations, depending on the situation.What is really interesting is to find out what it is, that you like in each one of these areas and that you are particularly good at. This provides you with a rich, flexible picture of who you are!

  • nina

    “or “multiple intelligences,” a theory by Harvard professor Howard Gardner who distinguishes between different kinds of learners: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, and so on…”Like Christina Lordeman, I’d also like to point out that Howard Gardners theory of “multiple intelligences” is not about learning styles! That’s what a lot of people use it for, oversimplifying the original work!It is a concept to broaden the perspective on intelligence, it is so much more than a mysterious amount of IQ, that you happen to have or not have… According to Gardner there are eight areas of intelligence and everybody has got them all, in their own way and uses them during each day in various combinations, depending on the situation.What is really interesting is to find out what it is, that you like in each one of these areas and that you are particularly good at. This provides you with a rich, flexible picture of who you are!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      Great point!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ257IEWNCIUHS3AND7M2X2ZCQ Trolls Union Local 47

      Great point!

  • MB Foster

    Thanks for the well-written, thought-provoking article.
    I think that the drive to make learning ‘fun’ and to ‘engage’ children has come back to bite us. Learning can be fun; concepts can be taught in an engaging way. But I see teachers becoming dispirited by the pressure to edu-tain and produce high standardized test results while catering to multiple special learning needs (IEPs, etc.). Teaching is WORK. Learning is WORK. Mutual respect between teachers, kids and parents for the work involved deserves attention. Thanks for giving me the chance to think about this topic.

  • Peter Hook

    The very essence of Carol Dweck’s work in “Mindset”

  • Peter Hook

    The very essence of Carol Dweck’s work in “Mindset”

  • Gbthorne

    Throughout my career in education (beginning in 1970), I’ve been motivated to teach because I’m interested in what motivates children to learn and what we can do to keep that motivation alive and positively directed.  I’ve read about and tried many different approaches in a number of different schools, with a number of different age groups, and obviously in different decades.  Sometimes one thing works, sometimes another thing works.  Sometimes you have to try everything with one group of students, sometimes it’s easy.  Sometimes you find you are doing something because you like to teach it that way, but maybe the students aren’t getting it.  Many times I have stood in my classroom at the end of the day feeling that I have failed.  But then I try harder.  I guess in my case trying harder does achieve good results–eventually.  I think that different theories, techniques, best practice, etc. often have their place.  What good teachers do, and what good parents do, is find what works, and the experts really don’t know everything.  But don’t worry too much about them.  For their effort in telling us what to do, they often build great reputations and earn a lot fo money!

  • Christopher Pleasants

    I see a connection to another very big issue that students have ingrained in them from an early age: most students (I would say especially in math) do not believe that UNDERSTANDING is what gets them to success; instead, they believe that “Being able to do it” will get them success. Students often just try to quickly memorize a process or the steps and never seek to understand, which means they will inevitably forget and it will be harder to learn and understand new concepts. I would connect “seeking to understand” with “effort”.

    Also, I would like to point out (as a math teacher) that rewarding effort is done A LOT already in schools, but kids have a different concept of “effort” than we adults have. For example, an adult would never say that Guessing is the same is Trying, but I have many students who really do believe that.

  • Christopher Pleasants

    I see a connection to another very big issue that students have ingrained in them from an early age: most students (I would say especially in math) do not believe that UNDERSTANDING is what gets them to success; instead, they believe that “Being able to do it” will get them success. Students often just try to quickly memorize a process or the steps and never seek to understand, which means they will inevitably forget and it will be harder to learn and understand new concepts. I would connect “seeking to understand” with “effort”.

    Also, I would like to point out (as a math teacher) that rewarding effort is done A LOT already in schools, but kids have a different concept of “effort” than we adults have. For example, an adult would never say that Guessing is the same is Trying, but I have many students who really do believe that.

  • Lclifton1

    Effective praise is specific, not general: “This sentence has such a compelling rhythm.” or  “The way you describe your grandfather, I can actually see his eyes growing cold.”  The specifics say, “I really see you, I really hear you, you wrote words that touched me.”  The specifics work like the stats in baseball, as measures of achievement on the task attempted rather than as puffs of air.

  • http://www.steppingstonestogether.com/ Erika Burton

    I like the message of your email here. Kids should be praised for their efforts but with specific acknowledgment of what they understood and follow up questions or probing to help them understand what they missed. While praise ALWAYS has a place in teaching/learning it is often misused in the form of GOOD JOB or NICE RESPONSE! This does NOT help children understand or grow but rather creates a cycle of half thoughts. We must be challenged to think beyond our initial thoughts to get at the answers to any concept we might struggle with in time.

    Erika Burton, PhD.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com
    eburton@steppingstonestogether.com

  • http://www.steppingstonestogether.com/ Erika Burton

    I like the message of your email here. Kids should be praised for their efforts but with specific acknowledgment of what they understood and follow up questions or probing to help them understand what they missed. While praise ALWAYS has a place in teaching/learning it is often misused in the form of GOOD JOB or NICE RESPONSE! This does NOT help children understand or grow but rather creates a cycle of half thoughts. We must be challenged to think beyond our initial thoughts to get at the answers to any concept we might struggle with in time.

    Erika Burton, PhD.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com
    eburton@steppingstonestogether.com

  • Jkrutulis

    Great article-it is so true-telling children they are smart gives them a false sense of their true ability. I have also seen children who are always told they are smart give up easily when given a more difficult task

  • Shy Goldstein

    One aspect
    which I thought of as well is the potential social implications of this sort of
    attitude towards learning.

    Could this
    understanding of learning and achievement serve to reduce stigmas and
    prejudices between fellow students, or potentially increase them?

     

    My point is
    this:

    If achievement
    and success is based purely on innate ability then kids may prescribe ability
    levels (and opinions) of one another on the basis of performance.

    On the other
    hand, if the understanding is that working hard is perceived of as the culprit of
    success by kids and someone is not performing well on assessments, then their
    peers might assume that they simply are not working hard at home and have
    little respect for them; the Puritan work ethic, if you will.

     

    Regardless of
    these social ideas, I am most definitely going to shift my praise and
    encouragement towards the journey and not the destination for my kids to a
    certain extent.

  • Shy Goldstein

    One aspect
    which I thought of as well is the potential social implications of this sort of
    attitude towards learning.

    Could this
    understanding of learning and achievement serve to reduce stigmas and
    prejudices between fellow students, or potentially increase them?

     

    My point is
    this:

    If achievement
    and success is based purely on innate ability then kids may prescribe ability
    levels (and opinions) of one another on the basis of performance.

    On the other
    hand, if the understanding is that working hard is perceived of as the culprit of
    success by kids and someone is not performing well on assessments, then their
    peers might assume that they simply are not working hard at home and have
    little respect for them; the Puritan work ethic, if you will.

     

    Regardless of
    these social ideas, I am most definitely going to shift my praise and
    encouragement towards the journey and not the destination for my kids to a
    certain extent.

  • Carol

    Quantum Learning is the best professional developement I know of for teaching to the brain’s natural learning systems and helping teachers to understand HOW to help students learn…and love learning.

  • Mindsetter

    Real world does require the effort.  Reward the accomplishment and recognize the effort – especially in the formative years.  If someone complains that I have accomplished more than others because I’m smart (whatever that really means) I reply with, ” what made me smart? – a great deal of effort, study and practice, I assure you.”   No one is born knowing the Calculus, the rules of football or the history of the Roman Empire.  If that information is learned, we become “smart” through effort.  None of us learn at the same pace or with the same effort.  Kids (and adults) need to learn to how to learn by applying themselves effectively with measurable results.  Work hard for that A and remember that without the effort it would not have been achieved! 

  • http://jashar.myopenid.com/ Jay

    This is news?

  • http://jashar.myopenid.com/ Jay

    This is news?

  • Khannah

    How do we convince children that thinking is unequivical to not being smart?

  • Khannah

    How do we convince children that thinking is unequivical to not being smart?

  • Gakiss2

    Not sure why we are concerned about whether the student finds the process of education comfortable or not painful.

    Each individual person is responsible for their own education.  The only purpose served by grades is to provide some level of certainly in predicting future performance to employers which are more and more large corporations.  Grades provide NO value to the student whatsoever.  The fact that schools provide grades is evidence that they are slaves to the employers.  As parents we are likely concerned about our offspring’s ability to meet their needs in their life.  Parents then must take on the task of teaching them how to learn.  Schools are slaves to the employers and they are NOT interested in your offspring’s ability to learn.   At least as long as the education system has no motivation based on the actual performance of the students they processed after they leave and start providing services to the employers the schools serve.As a society we are concerned about the quality life that future generations enjoy.  It is important that students learn how to learn.  That will obviously make them more productive to society.  It is equally important that low performers are eliminated from the gene pool.  Lets hope our society continues to punish and eliminate those who don’t cut the mustard.

  • Gakiss2

    Not sure why we are concerned about whether the student finds the process of education comfortable or not painful.

    Each individual person is responsible for their own education.  The only purpose served by grades is to provide some level of certainly in predicting future performance to employers which are more and more large corporations.  Grades provide NO value to the student whatsoever.  The fact that schools provide grades is evidence that they are slaves to the employers.  As parents we are likely concerned about our offspring’s ability to meet their needs in their life.  Parents then must take on the task of teaching them how to learn.  Schools are slaves to the employers and they are NOT interested in your offspring’s ability to learn.   At least as long as the education system has no motivation based on the actual performance of the students they processed after they leave and start providing services to the employers the schools serve.As a society we are concerned about the quality life that future generations enjoy.  It is important that students learn how to learn.  That will obviously make them more productive to society.  It is equally important that low performers are eliminated from the gene pool.  Lets hope our society continues to punish and eliminate those who don’t cut the mustard.

  • http://twitter.com/ASCD_Inservice Laura Varlas

    This was the most popular ASCD SmartBrief story from last week — we’ve responded with some strategies for instituting process or effort praise in your classroom: http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/2011/11/what-is-process-praise-why-should-you-use-it.html

  • http://twitter.com/ASCD_Inservice Laura Varlas

    This was the most popular ASCD SmartBrief story from last week — we’ve responded with some strategies for instituting process or effort praise in your classroom: http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/2011/11/what-is-process-praise-why-should-you-use-it.html