Feedback and responses to our actions shape our mindsets; in the case of children, comments by parents and teachers especially have great impact.
These comments are received as messages which could be positive or negative. The negative messages are normally totally unintentional, not what we are trying to say at all. It could look like praise or comfort, but have an effect we don’t expect. These messages could develop closed mindsets.
Words could set a child up for believing they have been born with permanent traits, a natural ability in some area, while lacking in others, in which case they would be bound for failure in that area.
If a child is praised ‘you are a smart kid’ or ‘you are so lucky that you were born with that talent’, it sends messages to the recipient that he or she is in need of no improvement. If the same child struggles in another area, they can be forgiven for thinking ‘I have not been born with talent for this area; no compliments will ever come my way in this field – I’m not wasting time or effort on this.'
Grades might be perceived as judgements too, indicators of whether a student is smart or not, instead of inspiring to improve. Parents might comfort with the words, ‘don’t worry I was not good at this either'. Students sometimes even label themselves... ‘I am dumb’ as a result.
Research shows that motivation can come by changing a mindset, and that our feedback can help. A mindset that inspires students to take risks, to confront challenges and keep working at them will help students put effort in and work toward the success they want.
What do such messages sound like? Instead of ‘You are just so good’ we could say, ‘I love the way you came up with new ideas’ or 'I love the way that you used feedback to improve your skill’. We could say ‘I love how you kept on trying until you got it right', or ‘I like the way you asked for help when you struggled’. Saying ‘Your efforts really paid off!’, will praise the end-product, but also the work the student put in to get there.
By praising higher order thinking, and by ‘thinking out loud’ about possible ideas or ways to solve problems in students’ presence, we can inspire, encourage and foster creativity and critical thinking without negativity. These are important skills in the 21st Century.
When students fail, we need to help them not to blame others, circumstances or even their ability, but to unpack where they need improvement and encourage them to put the effort in to get there. Encouragement is a Biblical concept as seen in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up’. It speaks to me of our role to support and encourage others, which includes our students. Encouraging students to believe that they can succeed, if they apply themselves, sets them up for success and life.
For further information on the topic visit ‘Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential’ by Carol Dweck.
Mrs Antoinette Wilson
Head of Primary