Mindset Series: 2. Praise – Is it helping or hindering growth


 Let’s give students learning tasks that tell them, “You can be as smart as you want to be.” – Carol Dweck (ii)

Mindset Series: 1. Fixed vs Growth Mindsets explored the general difference between a fixed and growth mindset – A fixed mindset views qualities such as intelligence and talent as innate and stable, whereas a growth mindset views these qualities as a starting point which can be developed with effort.

This post will explore more specifically the impact of growth/ fixed mindsets on children and young adults at school and what educators can say to ensure a growth learning environment. Although focus is on communicating with children to shift their mindset, strategies discussed are just as applicable when communicating with adults.

“The most motivated and resilient students are not the ones who think they have a lot of fixed or innate intelligence. Instead, the most motivated and resilient students are the ones who believe that their abilities can be developed through their effort and learning.” – Carol Dweck (iii)

How do students view their learning?

Students in general are easily influenced by the environment around them. Their motivation to learn is equally, if not more so, influenced by what they believe is valued by the people in their surroundings – namely their ability or their effort. Their mindset then forms their rules for learning.

study completed with 7th graders (iii) during their transition year to highschool, found the following truths underlying their perception of learning:

Table showing differences in fixed versus growth mindset “rules” for learning:

table of fixed vs growth learners

Another study (i), exploring the effects of fixed and growth mindsets in maths and science achievement, found that achievement and effort of females with a fixed mindset declined in the face of stereotypical comments regarding a girl’s inability to excel in maths and science. In comparison, their growth minded counterparts did not demonstrate a change of effort and achievement following similar comments.

ABILITY praise vs PROCESS praise – It makes all the difference

Without even realising it, many educators and significant adults may be unintentionally fostering a fixed mindset simply by the choice of words they use to provide feedback to students.

The following YouTube clip is a brief overview of Carol Dweck’s research regarding the effects of praise and mindsets. Children were praised for completing tasks, however, one group were praised for their ability while the other group were praised for their effort.

Ability praise fosters a fixed mindset. It focuses on NOW – and is short-lived, as value is placed on the correct answer. For ability praise to continue the child has to ensure they keep excelling at the task they take on, therefore avoiding anything that may be challenging as it may prevent them from receiving praise.

Process praise (focusing on effort) fosters a growth mindset. This praise is long-lived, as value is placed on the process. The student knows that as long as they continue to demonstrate effort, regardless of the task they are learning, their effort is being valued.

Another great YouTube clip to consolidate the findings, discussed above, of the effects of praise and mindsets.

How to make praise positively powerful

CHOOSE words wisely when providing praise. This strategy alone can shift a child’s mindset from one that is fixed to one that is growth based or vice versa.

Growth praise (iii) focuses on the process rather than the result. Eliminate praise that uses the words smart, correct, good at this – anything focusing on the correct response.

When providing feedback to students, regardless of correct or incorrect response, praise PROCESS:

  • P ersistence
  • R esilience *
  • O ptimism *
  • C oncentration
  • E ffort
  • S trategies
  • S tudying skills *

* Added by Learn.Grow.Flourish as additional skills that can be praised to foster growth mindsets.

The power of ‘not YET’ (ii)

If a child is struggling with a particular task, receives a bad grade or claims that they cannot do it  – add ‘yet’ to the statement. This encourages students to learn that they should not be ashamed of their initial difficulty or mistakes, they just haven’t mastered it YET – but may the next time or the time after that.

Where to from here?

This post has focused only on the power of praise and the use of ‘not yet’. Just these slight adjustments can shift students perception of what they are capable of achieving.

Although studies referred to in this post focused on children in school environments, theories discussed can be applied to adults within work and relationship settings.

Stay tuned for future posts in the series exploring other strategies to foster a growth mindset within learning environments and your own life.

 Comment your thoughts regarding fixed and growth mindsets below.



Mindsets – Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?

Fixed vs Growth Mindset.

Praise – Is it helping or hindering growth?

Praise effort not ability – Easier said than done.

Fostering a growth mindset culture in the classroom.



Learn resources    Grow resources    Flourish resources page

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