In today’s society, praise is something children strive for in order to feel accomplished. But it is important for people to think very hard about what form of praise they give to those seeking it as there is also a challenge associated with positive labelling.
Carol Dweck conducted a study where she took pupils of very similar academic ability and gave them all a test. When the results were in she grouped the pupils based on ability and gave them another test. Whittling the participants down so that there was 2 groups of extremely similar academic ability.
Dweck labelled Group A as ‘smart’ and praised them on their level of ‘smart’. ‘Wow, you got 8 out of 10 right. That’s a really good score. You must be really smart at this.’ Group A took these points on board and felt great about themselves because they have now completed a very hard test and they are now considered ‘smart’.
Dweck then took Group B and labelled them as ‘hard working’. ‘Wow you got 8 out of 10 right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.’ Group B took this praise on board and felt great about themselves as they have now completed a very hard test and they are now considered ‘hardworking’.
Interestingly, what happened next shows the dangers of positive labelling. Dweck offered Group A and Group B another test. But this test was going to be harder than the one previous. ALL of Group A chose not to do the harder test. They were now considered ‘smart’ and did not want to risk their positive label. While 90% of Group B took the new, more challenging, test. Their results were not as good as the previous test but that didn’t matter. The result didn’t define them. They were still hard working.
This study shows that those labelled ‘smart’ could reject a potential learning experience or a potential challenge in order to keep their ‘positive label’.
In summary, positive labelling has it place, however there are two sides to every story. We must be aware of each side and take responsibility for the tools we use to help progress and develop our children.