Sunday, February 12, 2017

Working towards a Growth Mindset

In a short video clip that Lorraine Sands took of her friend Hunter challenging himself on a rope swing, we can hear her, in the background, say “Do you know I’ve been watching how much you’ve been practicing and look what you can do now. You put a lots of effort into that. Well done.” Lorraine says this with such kind enthusiasm and celebration and Hunter now has the tools and strategies, of practice and effort, to apply to his future endeavors knowing he is up to the challenge. Contrast this with a child praised for their ‘beautiful painting’ who then proceeds to do that painting over and over again, who research suggests may not take the risk of trying new medium in different ways to grow and progress their art.

Barbara Coloroso in her book Kids Are Worth It! suggests parents and teachers use encouragement and feedback in the form of compliments, comments and constructive criticism to replace rewards and praise. She also suggests we suspend our own judgement and simply say “Tell me about it” and listen to understand the child’s perspective - it might be different to your own. Teachers I work with agree that this takes awareness, effort and practice - a growth mindset!
Tangible rewards offered to children to perform a task other than very simple ones, backfire and do not create the intrinsic motivation we desire for children. Daniel Pink who has written the book ‘Drive’, says of intrinsic motivation, “We do things because they’re interesting, we do it because they’re fun, we get better at it and because they make a contribution.” Barbara Coloroso writes that rewards rob children of this kind of creativity, autonomy, sense of well-bing and connectedness. She says children will do good because it feels good but when the sticker is introduced, doing good is no longer it’s own reward, it is the means to get the sticker. They have an addictive quality and the more children need or want rewards the greater the effect. Children become reward and praise dependent, the effects of which can have serious ramifications throughout their lives. In the Youtube clip ‘To Praise or Not To Praise’ Barbara says “Reward and praise dependent children don’t have that inner sense of ‘I’m an ok person and I’m connected to other human beings and we both matter’. Praise and reward dependent kids think ‘it’s all about me’.”
Alfie Kohn suggest that, as teachers, we need to ask ourselves what it is we want, long term, for the children we teach. Just as Alfie Kohn does with thousands of teachers, I have started to discuss this with teachers I am working with and unsurprisingly they say they would want children to be things like kind, empathetic, caring, curious, life-long learners, creative, happy and responsible. There is never any mention of compliance - these teachers do not see compliance as a valuable disposition for these children’s future. Once we have a strong sense of what it is we do want for children, and what is valued learning in our place, we can go about cultivating an environment which supports those things - this may take some time and research. The books and web based resources below are a fabulous place to start. 

Coloroso, B. (2002) Kids are worth it!. HarperResource:New York
Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset. The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books:New York Kohn, A. (2006) Beyond discipline. From compliance to community. ASCD:Virginia, USA
•To Praise or not to praise
•Daniel Pink. What really motivates workers
•TED Daniel Pink. The puzzle of motivation Websites:


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