Growth mindset comments for kids
*Posters are listed at the end of the post.
“You are smart!” a teacher tells a student.
You would think that what the teacher is doing is great and will probably raise the self-esteem of the child.
Well, not exactly. Contrary, telling a child that he is talented by nature, could have negative effects on the performance of the child. How is that possible?
#1. The growth mindset experiment
Carol Dweck and her colleagues studied how the children respond to various comments offered by adults with good intentions. Instead of comments lets use the word: praise. Here is what they found out.
They took 400 5th grade students from all over the USA and they gave them an easy non-verbal IQ test. At the end of the test, they praised all children. This is how they praised the first group of children:
Great job, you must be really smart at this!
Notice the emphasis the researcher gives on the child’s intelligence.
The second group of children received this praise: Great job, you must have worked really hard at this. This group was praised based on their effort.
After, they gave both groups two options for their next test.
1. First option: They informed the children that “the next test is going to be harder but it is going to be a great opportunity to learn and grow”.
2. The second option: was a test similar to the first on which “you will surely do well”.
Here is where results get interesting.
67% of the children that were praised for their intelligence choose the easier test, while 92% of the children that were praised for their effort, chose the hardest test.
The harder test was chosen by 33% of the children that were praised for their intelligence compared to a whopping 92% of children that were praised for their effort.
This study confirms the impact of the kind of praise we give our children.
But why did praising the intelligence of children made them prefer the easier test?
Well according to Carol Dweck, when we hear that we are brilliant and smart, we interpret it as the main reason that the other person admires us, so we better not do anything clumsy to disprove their opinion, or better their evaluation.
That is why we avoid doing anything harder in fear that we will fail. And this is the fixed mindset. The notion that we were born having a natural talent for playing tennis, or chess etc.
On the other hand, if we hear how important are the strategies we use, the effort we put on a task, the amount of work we do, then we focus more on getting better and upgrading ourselves. We realize that if we don’t consistently take up harder tasks we are not going to get better.
Continuing the study, Carol Dweck and her team gave all children an impossible test. They focused on how the kids in each group handled the challenge. The group that was praised for their effort, worked harder and longer and they enjoyed the process while the group that was praised for their intelligence spend the shorter time on the test and became frustrated.
After all children experienced the “failure” test, a final test was given to them, as easy as the 1st test.
The group that was praised for their intelligence did worse than the first test. Their average score dropped by a 20% in comparison to the first test.
The group that was praised for their effort, raised their average score by 30%! This is a 50% difference between the two groups and the only difference was the way they were praised.
Think about it. A few words can impact our development.
#2 Praise should focus on the process.
We should avoid praising the person e.g. “You are extremely talented”.
We should also avoid praising the outcome, for example: “You got an A in Maths, that’s great!”
Keep in mind the process.
Observe the child while she works. Comments should not be focused only on the effort. Many times, it’s not the effort that counts, but the choice of the right strategy. Praise her for using strategies to solve a problem. For finished assignments, observe the effort on behalf of the child.
The comments should be descriptive.
When you are checking how the child works, you first make a diagnosis and start with the positive. For example, when writing: “Well done, I see you are forming paragraphs and your spelling is correct”.
“Your description of the place made me feel like I was there Kacy!”
“I see you are working really hard on completing your tasks!”
For handwriting, a descriptive comment would be: “He puts a lot of effort into his handwriting. The spacing between words is good, letters are on the line and clear”.
Praise behaviors like the curiosity, courage, asking for feedback, persistence, choosing difficult tasks…
“I see how hard this problem was for you and I am proud of you for sticking with it!”
“Your grades reflect your hard work.”
“You are working wonderfully as a group. You give each other time to speak, you take notes and ask questions when you don’t understand something!”
“Well done for fixing your mistakes!”
“Great job! You used the strategy we taught in the classroom!”
But, what about when there is nothing to praise?
Usually, most of us when we are tired, blurt disapproving comments without first noticing what the child did well. It is natural after all, especially when a teacher needs to focus on many children at the same time.
It may be that the child didn’t do many things, but we should always remember to find something good. Even if the child wrote a simple sentence in the 20 minutes of writing, we should take a deep breath, read the sentence and say something positive about it.
So, take a deep breath, push away the urge to start nudging the child on why he only wrote one sentence and instead say something encouraging: “I am noticing you’re putting a lot of thought on the intro. The first sentence it’s like the beginning of a movie trailer. I wonder what is going to happen next.”
Other comments could be: “Imagine if you put some effort, how much better your story is going to get”.
“You have really improved on ……..”
#3 Feedback on progress should be specific, like a call to action.
After we provide our descriptive comment it is now time to comment on what we want the child to focus on.
Prescriptive comments act like a guide for improvement. Telling a student to improve their handwriting is not of much help. The child needs to know exactly what he needs to do and how to improve. Start with the phrase, “the next step would be to improve your handwriting. You should slow down and take more time”.
Let’s keep up with the student that got stuck on the first sentence. You could guide him to look back at the guidelines – bullet points you offered for this subject. A quick way would be to check ready made posters you have for ideas.
“What about talking more about the place? Can you describe it using your five senses? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you sense? ”
#6 Break the task into smaller steps so the children can be able to identify their mistake or what they need to focus next.
Avoid overloading. One step at a time.
This process takes time but it would help the student handle overloading of info.
A great activity is listed in the Growth Mindset Coach book by Annie Brock. This activity is aimed to show students that there is a process of learning something new. Have your students create a four-section foldable to draw pictures of something they’ve learned to do.
Under each flap, the students need to draw what they needed to learn before achieving this activity. For example, on the one side they can draw a piano (to show that they know how to play piano) and on the backside, they could draw the notes on they keyboards they had to learn. Older students can simply do a T- Chart with the one side showing what they’ ve learned and the other side what they needed to learn first.
You could use the foldable to break down a difficult learning process with many steps. In Maths it is easier. You could use Maths’ long division as an example in the foldable, where you will break down the steps. After that, you can encourage students to improve in other aspects. For example, map out the steps on how to tackle a ball, draw a cat, draw a human, make a sandwich, write a book.
For example, to write a book you have to make a mind map of ideas before starting out, organize your ideas into sections/chapters, start writing and writing and writing, choose a title, write a book description, create a cover, edit the book, publish the book.
So whenever a student faces a difficulty, she can go back and revise the steps she took.
#4 add the why in the comments for Growth mindset (start with why)
When you are making a comment for improvement, it would also help if you add the why. Why should the child follow your advice?
Why should the child aim for a growth mindset? How would it help her him? “Why comments” act as an intrinsic incentive to the students. You could comment on how improving their handwriting would allow other classmates to read his work easier, or that by keep practicing on this activity, his brain will grow.
Remind students: “Each time you try and fail, your brain is creating new neurons and synapses to understand the problem”.
“Your brain is growing!”
Of course, adding the why is something that can be done verbally, as adding it in the written comments is time-consuming. Plus listening to the why it is more empowering.
#5 Maximize your feedback by involving the parent.
When writing feedback to your students, keep the parent in mind and offer tips to maximize their participation. Peter is using the strategies we learned in the classroom to solve word problems and that is a wonderful improvement. Next step should be to write full sentence answers.
“She is a hard worker. She supports her writing with reasons, examples, and details. Keep practicing at home using the guidelines I ‘ve sent this week”
#7 Transform your space into a risk-friendly environment for children.
Have comments framed like: “Every mistake you make is progress”.
“You are not there, yet”.
“I am not a math person, yet!”
“Challenges make me stronger”.
“When you believe in your self, the brain works.”
“When we make a mistake, synapses fire.”
“There is always Plan B… and C… and D!”
Learn more about the Growth mindset here.
Margarita Marti is an elementary school teacher with 9 years of experience working at schools. She has an Med in “Creative arts in education”. She wrote and self published a children’s book called “It’s ok to be different”. Don’t forget to check it out here!