The Inverse Power of Praise

     I decided to share this concept with some of my students because I remember how powerfully it struck me.  Praising kids can have a negative effect on their intellectual performance and motivation as they grow older.  Why did this strike such a reaction in me?  As a teacher I thought of all the times I had simply said “good job” or something similar on a task as if the task were over, and there was no more learning to be gained.  I wondered if I had inadvertently fed into what my students already believed about themselves–that they were either smart or dumb, and that was it.  I started reflecting on what I thought about learning.  I started changing how I responded to my students, mostly honors classes at the time.  These were students who had most likely had been told they were really smart for most of their lives.  I started praising their efforts, the small victories they made, particularly in their writing instead of making general comments of praise that weren’t really helpful and did not refer to the process of learning.  I tried to shift the focus in my classroom to the process instead of just the outcome.  I can’t really know what sort of difference it might have made.  I can only hope that it helped in a small way.  I am grateful to have read Po Bronson’s book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, in which “The Inverse Power of Praise” is a chapter.  At the very least it got me thinking, and at its best, it made me a better teacher.
   For my students I was hoping they would reflect on their own upbringings or consider how they speak to their own children or younger siblings or other relatives.  And reading the article did cause a lot of reflection.  A side benefit was that many of them realized how important their words can be, a definite win in an English class.