Praising Effort Over Smarts Encourages Growth

Most people might expect to be praised and to praise others for a job well done. Reinforcing that something was done well shows the person they are appreciated and should continue their behavior in the future, right?

Not according to the 1998 Standford report “Effects of Intelligence and Effort Praise.” In the study, after kids failed at a task, “[they] also displayed less task persistance, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance than children praised for effort.”

Also, researchers found that students who were praised for being smart considered it to be a “fixed trait” and therefore focused on getting good grades. Whereas students who were praised for their hard work saw learning as a process and saw room to grow.

A new study by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, is building on the findings of the Standford study to prove placing an emphasis on learning styles can have equally adverse effects on a student’s ability to grow in the academic realm.

“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.’” Mendoza-Denton believes changing how students approach difficulty could make a significant impact on they way students think about their skill sets and what is and is not fixed. When students encounter something difficult, instead of shutting down they should ask what different strategy they can use to get past this roadblock and progress.

Successful students have lots of failures. How can you change the dialogue in your classroom to encourage academic growth instead of emphasizing the importance of a grade? How does seeing a student’s strengths and weaknesses as fixed qualities stunt learning and keep stereotypes alive, like that girls are good with words and boys with numbers?



“Can Everyone Be Smart at Everything?” By Tina Barseghian. 4 November 2011. Mind/Shift. Accessed on 7 November 2011.



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