What to Say When Praising Effort and Process

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Last week's most-clicked ASCD SmartBrief story, Can Everyone Be Smart at Everything? underscored the importance of praising students for effort and the processes they use to learn. This cultivates what Carol Dweck calls a "growth mindset," and helps kids identify the practices that develop their knowledge and skills, and supports their perseverance toward goals, by acknowledging hard work over so-called innate talent.

Being smart means learning comes easy is one of the myths that haunt students. This fixed mindset leads students to avoid challenges for fear of looking stupid. Dweck says teachers can challenge students' fixed mindset beliefs by using effort or "process" praise -- for engagement, perseverance, strategies, improvement, and the like. She provides some examples of process praise in her Educational Leadership article, "The Perils and Promises of Praise":

    • You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!
    • I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.
    • It was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, kept up your concentration, and kept working. That's great!
    • I like that you took on that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work—doing the research, designing the machine, buying the parts, and building it. You're going to learn a lot of great things.
    • For the student who gets an A without trying: "All right, that was too easy for you. Let's do something more challenging that you can learn from."
  • For the student who works hard and doesn't do well: "I liked the effort you put in. Let's work together some more and figure out what you don't understand."

Any other ideas from parents and educators?

This post originally appeared on ASCD blog In Service.