Praising Girls to build capacity

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s ground-breaking research in regard to the most effective ways to praise and motivate girls summarised in this article is often talked about here at Strathcona and it underpins our pedagogical philosophy. Dweck is now one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and her finding that there is a strong praise paradox for girls is important for us to keep sharing with you, our parents, as we are partners in the education of our girls. What has been found is that when you praise a girl and say. ‘You’re smart at this’ and then the next time they find it a struggle, they think they’re not smart and can’t do it. They become very uncomfortable with the feeling of struggle as the perceived implication is that it means that they cannot do something so they are more likely to become discouraged and disengage. It is about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but to admire the taking on of difficulty, trying many different strategies, and sticking to it so that achievement comes over time.Dweck has found that girls, in particular for whatever reason, tend to think that abilities are fixed – that people are born with a particular talent or ability – or they are not. Therefore, girls are more likely to give up when they encounter challenges with a task or area for study, as they believe that they do not have the ability to improve, full stop.

So, as parents and teachers, we need to be cognisant that in order to help build resiliency and a growth mindset, it is important that adults praise girls’ efforts to take on challenging tasks and overcome difficulties, rather than focus only on praising results and innate ability. Paraphrasing Dweck: the girls who are getting this process of praise, goal-setting, strategy and taking on hard things bit by bit, in areas in which they do not easily succeed or feel comfortable, those are the ones who are able to take on challenges and stick to them when the going gets tough. In this way, we are assisting our girls develop the critical skills they need in learning and in life.

Mrs Marise McConaghy, Principal