We appreciate strengths. But what is a strength?

Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. She has carried out a set of experiments with children that make a distinction between appreciating talent (‘You are very good at that.’) and appreciating effort (‘You really worked hard at that.’)

Here are some quotations from her work.

‘In the last 1990s when our country was at the height of the self esteem movement, the self esteem gurus told everybody to praise their children’s intelligence, to tell them how clever they are all the time. And this was supposed to build their confidence and their self-esteem and all good things would happen.’

‘But we did our research and showed that when you tell children that they are clever, it backfires.’

The children in Dweck’s experiments are given practical tasks which get harder as they go along. Everyone agrees that we want children to grow up willing to take on new challenges. But here is what happened when Dweck challenged the children to move outside their comfort zone and take on something at which they might fail.

‘The ones that are told that they are clever now fall apart. They think that if doing well meant that I was clever, then I guess that struggling means that I am not. They stop enjoying the task. They stop doing well. But the ones that have been praised for their process, for their effort, realise that these are harder problems, I just have to figure out how to learn them. Their confidence remains high. Their enjoyment of the problems remains high. And their performance starts to get better and better. ‘

‘My research shows we produce confident learners when we praise students for the process that they engage in, not when we tell them that they are smart or talented. And my research shows that when we encorage a growth mindset in students they become enthusiastic learners.’

You can watch some of the experiments and listen to Carol talk about them at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTXrV0_3UjY

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Comment by Jan Somers on September 14, 2012 at 3:17pm

I refer to Carol quite often when I facilitate workshops on personal growth. Her work on grow mindset versus fixed mindset is quite revealing.

Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on December 14, 2011 at 11:42pm

Thanks Phil. Please help us with translating this in the context of a SALT visit. Could you please  contrast two types of feedback to communities, given that research?

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