Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Recently, I downloaded a free sample of NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children for my Kindle. The sample includes Chapter 1 which is called "The Inverse Power of Praise". It is very interesting and filled with a lot of actual data from experiments done with children to back up the claims they make.

Basically this chapter talks about how when we tell children they are smart, it actually produces the opposite effect than what we desire when we say it. Children who are told they are smart eventually stop trying when they think a task is going to be too difficult.

One of the big questions asked is "why does [a] child who is measurably at the very top of the charts lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?"

Why indeed.

Dr. Carol Dweck completed a series of studies with children to try to pinpoint information about the effects of praise. In the first part all of the children were given a non-verbal IQ test that consisted of puzzles. They were designed so all of the children would do fairly well. They randomly divided their praise between praise on their intelligence and praise on their effort. They found after two more series of tests that the students who were praised for their effort actually chose the difficult puzzles for the last test while the majority of children who had been praised for their intelligence went wtih the easy test. Basically they copped out. Dweck summarized this by saying that when we praise children for their intelligence we are essentially telling them to look smart and not to risk making mistakes.

Additionally after a round where the test was purposely too difficult, the children who had been previously praised for their effort took the news better when they found out they hadn't passed -- they chalked it up to the notion that they must not have tried as hard as they could. The children who had been previously praised for their intelligence took the failure to mean they really weren't smart at all.

In the last test (the puzzle test mentioned above with the cop-out), the effort praised students scored an average of 30% higher than their original score while the intelligence praised students scored an average of 20% lower than their original score.

There is so much more to the chapter but I was hooked just reading this far. As a teacher in the inner city, I find varying degrees of children who receive praise. Some children are never praised for anything unless they are at school. Some children are praised so much that their parents won't accept that the child earned a lower grade because "my kid is smart, s/he should have a higher grade". Even in elementary school this happens. [There is a parent in the sample chapter of NutureShock who told a teacher she couldn't give the child a C because it would "hurt his self esteem".]

I think what appeals to me the most about this book is that these are not just two drones who are spouting off random opinions that they think everyone should soak up and accept. They are providing real evidence from many studies (the study listed above spanned 10 years with the same results throughout those 10 years regardless of the socioeconomic status of the students) to back up their claims.

I can't wait to purchase the full version and see what else they have to say.