Praising Students' Efforts

Good Job! Sticky Note

Tutors, teachers and staff all want to encourage and support adult learners. Let’s say that you are tutoring a student in a math class. She is trying to solve a problem and is stuck. “I’m so stupid!” she says.  Your response may be, “No, you’re not. You are smart. This is a difficult problem.”  Unfortunately, the student probably won’t believe you.  She thinks that intelligence is fixed: you’re born smart (or not) and that doesn’t change.

According to Carol Dweck, a better way to praise students is to focus on their effort or the process they are using instead. Students can control these. Instead of saying, “You’re smart,” try, “I know that you can find another way to solve this problem. Let’s think about what you can try next.”  Separate the action from the actor. Instead of saying, “You’re really good at speaking in English,” try saying, “You did a great job sharing your ideas with your partner and asking your partner to explain her opinion.”

It takes some practice to develop the new habit of praising effort, but it is well worth it. The next time you find yourself saying, “Great job!” try to add a detail about what was great. If you find yourself saying, “You are smart,” try saying “You are smart to try _________ing.” 

Blog Category: