Praise for Homework Help
In Praise of Praise The Right Words Can Motivate Your Child
by Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.
Praise is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to homework. Research shows that by simply praising effort rather than intelligence, kids will develop greater motivation to keep trying, even when the going gets tough.
Dr. Carol Dweck conducted a landmark study on the effects of praise on 400 fifth graders. One at a time, the children were given a fairly easy, non-verbal IQ test. After randomly dividing the children, some were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”) and the others were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”). Remarkably, in a second round of testing, the children who had been praised for effort improved on their first score by about 30 percent. They did this by working diligently on each problem even as they became increasingly more difficult. They became very involved in solving each problem, trying every possible solution. But those who were told they were smart did worse. Their scores declined by 20 percent. These children did not keep trying when the problems became harder. Instead they gave up at the first sign of difficulty, not wanting to risk appearance of not being smart. Dweck stated, “Simply emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their own success.”
This affects homework because kids who feel in control are more likely to exert greater effort to get their work done well. They are more likely to persist in the face of difficulty.
Numerous other studies have found that specific praise is far superior to non-specific overtures. When words are too general, children discount their parents’ good intentions altogether, not feeling that their words are sincere. Given that praise needs to be specific and focused on effort, here’s how to make the transformation in your home:
One last thought about praise — use it in a 2:1 ratio. For every suggestion for improvement, start with praise and end with praise. Let’s say your son brings you his spelling assignment and there are clearly a few mistakes.
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