Home > Math News Archive Detail

<< Prev 3/4/2012 Next >>

Giving a Pat on the Back for Hard Work

Child development experts are expressing concerns that the increased emphasis on academic performance and test scores detracts from a student's development of "life skills like self-control, motivation, focus and resilience, which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades. And it may be distorting their and their parents’ values."

In a study, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, praised children solving math puzzles either for their intelligence or for their hard work. The result: the first group did worse on subsequent tests...and "took an easy way out, shunning difficult problems." Ginsburg's conclusion: "Praise for a good effort encourages harder work, while children who are consistently told they are smart do not know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem or reading assignment."

And his suggestion, applicable to both parenst and teachers, focuses on the "fine line" between our praise for effort and our praise for performance. Ginsburg suggests that rather than say “I’m so proud you got an A on your test,” we should say “I’m so proud of you for studying so hard.”

Ginsburg suggests we avoid giving the impression to students that they do not have to be good at everything, as "there is something to be learned when a child struggles or gets a poor grade despite studying hard."

Finally, Ellen Galinsky, child development author, adds: “It’s not just knowing the information...It’s knowing how to find the answers to the questions that is the basis of critical thinking.”

Now, my take? All of this sounds good, even lofty. But, four questions appear:

  • What about false praise, in either option, as students rapidly learn to know the difference?
  • Children who are praised for their good effort may work harder, but that does not imply they will know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem?
  • Doesn't this approach cater to the student who claims to work hard but has little success, often with the work effort being misdirected, haphazard, or from an ill-founded basis (i.e. not enough prior knowledge or skills)?
  • Galinsky, as if advocating students' Google-search by exhaustion, seems to miss an important point, as isn't it even more important to know how to ask or pose questiopns or problems?

Source: Adapted from Tara Parker-Pope's "School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons," New York Times, 9/5/2011