you're reading...
Redesigning Classrooms

In Praise of Praising and Criticising the Strategy #ThursdayThunk

Along with the Trust’s three head teachers I’m reading Carol Dweck’s book on Self-Theories; the book consists of a series of essays about her research which underpin her writing on Growth Mindset.  At the last meeting we read Chapter 15, Kinds of Praise and Criticism; The Origins of Vulnerability; it got me thinking.  The quotes below are taken from the book.


Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

“It is commonly believed that adults can do nothing more beneficial for children than praising their traits”

This conventional wisdom formed the basis of a series of tests on the prediction below:

“Criticism that measured the child’s traits or judged the child as a whole would make children more vulnerable when they later encountered setbacks. They would learn to measure themselves from their performance, and, in the presence of poor performance, they would come to negative conclusions. In contrast, we predicted that criticism that focused children on effort or strategies would promote a mastery-oriented response to later difficulties. But we also thought that praise could create vulnerability.”

The tasks in the research were pretend tasks in so much as they were acted out with the use of toy dolls, representing the child or the teacher, so no criticism was levelled directly at the child.  One of the tasks acted out involved feedback from the teacher to the child after they had been asked to clean up following a painting task.  The three different types of feedback acted out went like this:

“I’m disappointed that you haven’t cleaned up properly.” (observation linked to child)

“That’s not what I call doing it the right way because there is still paint all over.” (observation linked to behaviour/outcome)

“Your hands are still messy and the table still has paint on it. Maybe you should think of another way to do it.” (observation linked to follow up strategy)

The design was such that children linked a mistake to: adjusting their strategy; failure to meet the required outcome or a reflection on you as a person.  When the children were given identical feedback on a fifth scenario, a house built with no windows, their responses were different with a helpless reaction from the group who had previously received person orientated feedback and a more mastery orientated response from the group who received strategy feedback; a mistake condemns you or simply asks you to think again.

The type of praise given had a similar impact on a child’s later vulnerability when they hit a significant challenge.  For those children who received praise about being smart or good (person focused feedback) they would be more likely to give up in when faced with a difficult challenge.  If I was smart enough I could do it so why bother trying?  The message to self, “I can’t do it because I’m not a good enough person” creates even louder alarm bells around future self-worth and the possibility of mental health issues.

“In these groups, children were told after each success that they had completed the task appropriately and then either, “You’re a good boy/ girl” (group 1), “I’m proud of you” (group 2), or “You’re very good at this” (group 3). This is the kind of person- or trait-oriented praise that we believed might make children vulnerable to later failure or criticism, even though it is the kind of praise that may make them delighted and confident when they receive it. A fourth group received a more specific kind of praise that was focused on the child’s outcome, but not the strategy or effort. Here, after their success was noted, children were told, “That’s the right way to do it” (group 4). The final two groups were focused on either their effort or their strategy. After each success they were told, “You really tried hard” (group 5), or, “You found a good way to do it; could you think of other ways that would also work?” (group 6)”

Like many feedback mechanisms we have in teaching, including the use of criticism and praise, the key seems to be putting the ball clearly, specifically and concisely back into the pupil’s court in a way that s/he can act on it.  Give them feedback that directs them towards new, more or different strategies; it all depends how hard you work at it.  Small changes in class room (and staff room) discourse may have a significant long term impact.

#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.



One thought on “In Praise of Praising and Criticising the Strategy #ThursdayThunk

  1. Good that you’re catching up given the busy lives you guys lead. Dweck has long been concerned that schools interpret her ideas wrongly, dividing kids into two types…in fact we all experience each at any one time on the learning curve as it were…Of course, unless the school is vertically tutored it will never be able to make full use of Dweck’s ideas because the learning relationship (AfL in part) feedback loops are either malformed, missing or assumed in schools run entirely on a same age (linear or year) base. Is yours? I suspect so…

    Posted by Peter A Barnard | April 16, 2016, 7:38 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing (New Book)

Liminal Leadership


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 32,090 other subscribers
Follow @LeadingLearner on WordPress.com

Blog Stats

  • 1,605,324 hits


%d bloggers like this: