As a tutor you are in a great position to build up a student’s confidence. It might make intuitive sense to call a student “really clever” or a “genius” when they give you a correct answer or a very good piece of work. However, this can actually be counterproductive, because it promotes a fixed mindset in which some people are clever and have life easy, and others are simply not. If you are told over and over again that you are very intelligent it’s likely to make you feel like you don’t need to try hard to get top results. Moreover, when you do find something difficult, as you inevitably will, you are likely to doubt your core talent and this can be very upsetting.
It is much better, then, to promote a growth mindset in our students - that is, encouraging the belief that students can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and put effort into their learning. A child with a growth mindset enjoys getting feedback, loves a challenge, and bounces back from failure. Ideally, they will see themselves constantly situated in the “stretch zone”, surfing up an exponential curve of improvement.
Study 1: Carol Dweck
In a study by psychologist Carol Dweck parents were recorded praising their kids when they were 14, 26 and 38 months old. Five years later Dweck conducted interviews to see what kinds of attitudes the children had developed about their ability, facing challenges and morality.
The study confirmed that those with parents that tended to praise for effort and process were more likely to develop a growth attitude towards intelligence and morality. Moreover they were less likely to give up after failure, and less likely to misrepresent how well they did on a task.
The best kind of praise, then, is for process – “I like the way you did that” – outcome – “Great job on those maths questions” – and effort – “Your hard work has really paid off.”
Study 2: Carol Dweck
In another study, Dweck asked 67 kindergarteners to imagine that they had spent a long time building a great Lego house for their teacher. It worked but there was one problem: They had forgotten to add windows.
The experiment ended in one of three ways; a third of the kids were told that the teacher disapproved of the windowless house and said, “I’m disappointed in you” (person feedback). When these kids were questioned afterwards they felt bad about themselves and were not very inclined to have another go and fix the problem. A third of the kids were told “That’s not the right way to do it” (outcome feedback). And the final third were told “Maybe you could think of another way to do it” (process feedback).
Outcome and process feedback encouraged much greater persistence in the kids, many of whom were immediately keen to try and make the perfect house this time around.