Holy cow, I just read a very powerful article which I think should be read by all parents, grandparents, leaders of youth, school administrators, and–especially–teachers! It’s called “On the Perils and Promises of Praise,” written by Stanford pscyhology professor, Carol S. Dweck.
She explains that, per careful, controlled studies, giving children the wrong kind of praise (such as “You’re so smart! You’re going to make a difference in the world!”) makes them afraid of mistakes, unwilling to work through difficult challenges, and addicted to outside positive assessments such as grades (even being willing to cheat to get good scores).
On the other hand, praise that focuses on individual effort (such as “I see that you’ve made a lot of progress on that problem. Great work! Keep at it–your brain is getting a great workout!), coupled with explanations about how brains can be “grown” through mental effort and the acquisition of new knowledge, produces in students a marked increase in motivation to work hard in school.
Looking back at my obsession with straight A’s during my school years, and the paralysis I’ve experienced as an adult from believing “I can change the world because I’m so smart” yet drowning in caution and uncertainty because I fear failure, I see that my experiences are a testament to what she’s concluded.
The article is available on the Walden School website.