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Pop!Tech ’09: Praise You Like I Shouldn't

What do kids need to do well in school? Lots of well-meaning teachers and parents think praise is important. And they're right. Sort of. Ashley...


What do kids need to do well in school? Lots of well-meaning teachers and parents think praise is important. And they're right. Sort of.Ashley Merryman, speaking at Pop!Tech, just explained how the type of praise matters a lot. She reported on a study that took two random groups of students and, after a test, gave them each a different line of praise. One group of students was told "You did really well. You must be really smart." The second group was told "You did really well. You must work really hard." Then the two groups of students were given the opportunity to take a new, more difficult test or a new, less difficult one.It turns out that the students who were told they were smart chose to take the easy test. The students who were told they were hard workers embraced the challenge of the harder test and embraced it with aplomb.The point of the story is that when you tell students they're innately great, the students feel no need to improve. Furthermore, they end up trying to protect this image they have of themselves by avoiding things that might end in failure. If kids are told they're hard workers, on the other hand, they're less afraid of embracing new challegnes because they can think of themselves of hard workers even if they fail and it's the working itself that they value in themselves.It would be great if we could get this kind of research into practice in public schools. It's a subtle but important result, and it isn't the sort of thing most educators would think of on their own. That said, many public schools probably have some more fundamental challenges, unfortunately.Merryman writes a parenting and teaching blog with Po Bronson at Newsweek.com called NurtureShock and they have a new book out by the same name.