In recent years, we’ve come to understand that there are some ways of praising kids that are better than others. Say a student does makes an “A” on a math test. Many of us might be tempted to praise the student by saying “You’re so smart!” or “You’re really good at geometry!” But as a result of research conducted by Carol Dweck and her colleagues, found in her book Mindset, we know that this kind of praise can actually have negative effects on kids. Because if you believe that you do well because you just happen to be smart at certain things, you’re a lot less likely to try things that you’re not immediately good at, and less likely to work hard at things that don’t come easily to you. After all, you’re just not good at them, right?
Praise the Student to Learn Better
Better to praise that student by saying something like, “You really worked hard on geometry this semester. And it paid off!” This kind of praise reinforces the value of struggle and perseverance, and sends the message that the student can learn almost anything if they work hard enough.
Knowledge of How Learning Works
These findings emphasize what Annie Murphy Paul suggests in a recent article in Time: learning involves using “two kinds of prior knowledge: knowledge about the subject at hand (say, mathematics or history) and knowledge about how learning works.” Most schools are pretty good about the first one of these. But when it comes to how learning works, many of them have a lot to learn.
A recent article in American Educator summarizes what we know so far about what kind of work works best for students. It’s full of sometimes counterintuitive examples of the best ways to learn that you can even try out on your own student.
It’s Not Too Late!
We’re in the process of finalizing our student line-up for this coming August. But we can still make space for inspired, creative, motivated kids who want more out of high school. Does this describe someone you know? If so, send them our way!