A gold star for you! We all love to hear praise. It is the main staple of our egos and we certainly don't hold back feeding our kids a daily diet of “your so wonderful.” But a new study suggests that praise is more junk food than food for thought. So why do we feed our children praise? Ostensibly, we praise them so they will keep on trying and approach challenges in life with confidence. Makes sense, right? Wrong, according to a study by psychologist Carol Dweck. The study found labeling your child “smart” actually causes them to try less!
In this study conducted at a dozen New York schools, two groups of 5th grade students were given the same nonverbal test, but each group was rewarded with very different types of praise. The first group was told, “You must be smart at this.” The second group was told, “You must have worked really hard.” Researchers then challenged both groups to take another test in which the students could choose either a harder or an easier test. 90% of the group that was praised for their effort chose the harder test. The kids who had already been labeled smart took the easier route. According to Dweck the reason is simple. Dwecks says, “emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” Read more.
I was really encouraged to read this study because it ties directly into the theme of my language arts presentations that I am giving at schools in April - June. I have my box of tricks prepared to created mnemonic devices for all the tough vocabulary in my book. I have also planned silly drawings of the brain and its many nerve endings. My goal is to show how vocabulary is built by making connections in the brain and not something that you are born with. It was only until fairly recently that scientists discovered that we really do grow our brains.
When I was a teen, I asked my father why I had to go to college. (I was going through this artsy ego-centric phase where I believed I was plenty smart enough.) My father replied in two words, “Mental Gymnastics”. Use it or lose it was my dad's wisdom and I always liked to be challenged. Kids need to understand that they are in control of becoming stronger readers. And just like building the muscles in your biceps, or playing a sport, building vocabulary can be fun if you make it into a game. It's a brain game. But it does require some hard work and a lot of heavy lifting.
To book an author visit at your school. Contact Carlyn's booking agent, Susan Katz at KatzConnects.