The Impact of Praise and Feedback

The feedback teachers give students can influence their mindsets in surprising ways. For example, while praise for intelligence, such as "You're so smart!" is considered by some to be motivating, research demonstrates that it can actually have a negative impact on student motivation and achievement. In a study with 5th graders, Dweck and Mueller divided the children into two groups and asked them to work on a puzzle task. One group, after succeeding initially, was praised for their intelligence and ability.

The other group, also after succeeding, was praised for their effort, rather than innate intelligence. When the initially easy task became harder, the groups reacted in very different ways. Students praised for intelligence preferred to continue working on the easier tasks, while students praised for effort chose to progress to more challenging tasks. The effort-praised group exhibited more challenge-seeking behavior and cited learning goals as most motivating. The intelligence-praised group avoided challenge in favor of ensured success, and cited performance – i.e., looking smart – as a primary goal. Overall, praise for intelligence actually led to less persistence, less enjoyment, and worse performance than praise for effort. When students were praised for having high ability, they came to attribute their success to a fixed (and unchangeable) quality of themselves, while students praised for effort believed that their performance was subject to improvement. Read the full study here.

The Impact of Teacher Mindsets

Research also supports the idea that educator mindsets may influence the way they respond to students, which in turn has an impact on the students’ outcomes. In a 2012 study, Rattan et al found that educators with a fixed mindset about math ability were more likely to judge students as having low potential than their growth-minded counterparts. Additionally, educators with a fixed mindset were more likely to comfort students about their perceived low math abilities and apply kind strategies. They used “comfort-oriented” feedback, in which they told their students that their inability to succeed at math is okay, and also attempted to make math easier by lowering expectations. In a separate study reported in the same paper, this comfort-oriented feedback was linked to lower motivation in students, as well as lower expectations for their own performance when compared with “strategy-oriented” feedback. Read the full study here.

MindsetMaker™ Professional Development Course Changes Teacher Mindsets

A recent study at Washington State University investigated the impact of growth mindset professional development on pre-service college students. The results showed that instructors who used the MindsetMaker™ professional development course adopted more growth mindset practices and beliefs than those who did not receive the training.

Students who were praised for effort outperformed students who were told they were smart.

Teachers with a fixed mindset gave comfort praise, which decreased student motivation.

Only the teachers who completed MindsetMaker™ became more growth minded.

Only the teachers that completed MindsetMaker™ increased growth minded practices.