Thursday, February 3, 2011

On How to Overcome Difficulty (and Praising Children Right)

I'm uncomfortable with the gendered framing of this Psychology Today piece, but the core argument is one that I've seen before and find quite compelling: that if you praise children in ways emphasizing that intellectual skills can be developed through effort, they become better problem solvers.
Bright girls were much quicker [than boys] to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

How do girls and boys develop these different views? ... Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." ... This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't. ... Boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., ... "If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.") The net result: when learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren't "good" and "smart", and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

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