General or verbose praise about effort has little meaning, and kids can see right through it. Telling a class that 'everybody put in good effort' is not convincing, especially for older students, and certainly when they are aware that they didn’t try their hardest. The risk of using effort-focused feedback is that it is likely to be too general and thus counterproductive for many reasons. If students put a lot of effort into a task and still do not succeed, congratulating them on effort is like the consolation prize. Even if children are successful, if it took a lot of effort – maybe more than it took their peers – emphasising the effort may be interpreted as the teacher pointing out, 'Well you got it, but it took you a lot of effort so really you aren’t as smart as Johnny.'
Lastly, effort is one component needed for learning, but it’s not the endgame. Learning is the goal. Dweck, who often credited as advocating ‘effort praise’ writes about the problems with effort-praise with relation to growth mindset in Education Week:
Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it's not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they're stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches – not just sheer effort – to learn and improve … The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter. (Dweck, 2015)
SELF-EFFICACY SHAPES HOW WE INTERPRET FEEDBACK
The best way to ensure that all students get the most from our feedback is by being authentic and specific. General comments, such as those in the chart below, run the risk of being interpreted very differently depending on the self-efficacy level of the student. Have a look at the chart to see how two different children in your class might hear the same well-intentioned message completely differently. This interpretation then has an impact on their effort, perseverance and goal attainment.
THE TAKE-AWAY: BE AUTHENTIC, SPECIFIC and ABOUT THE TASK
Research shows that feedback is most effective when authentic, specific, based on the task (not the person), and when not used as a comparison to peers. Additionally, feedback is one element in the big picture in cultivating a learning mindset. Bandura, who sees educators as 'efficacy builders’, notes the multidimensional approach we need to take with our students: 'Successful efficacy builders do more than convey positive appraisals. In addition to raising people's beliefs in their capabilities, they structure situations for them in ways that bring success and avoid placing people in situations prematurely where they are likely to fail often. They measure success in terms of self-improvement rather than by triumphs over others' (Bandura, 1994).
IS THERE ANY ROOM FOR COMPLIMENTS?
The movement to focus more on effort-praise versus intelligence-praise is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that we can't say nice things to students anymore. Praising a job well done or a goal achieved is needed and valuable. Note that the most effective praise is still focused on the process, including low-inference observation and details that help them know specifically why you are praising them. For example, 'The way you delivered that speech was excellent. You had a strong start by asking a question and made three clear arguments. Well done!'
In Connect the Dots, myself and Nina Dibner, contributor to the book and former teacher like me, cover numerous other ways for cultivating a learning mindset in the classroom and across the whole school. Please get in touch via Twitter @triciatailored or email@example.com. Learn more about Connect the Dots at Amazon or on my website: tailoredpractice.com