“You’re so smart!” or “That is genius!” are things we all love to hear. However, these phrases, and others that praise inherent ability, encourage a fixed mindset. If I did something well because I am smart, then if I do something poorly, then it must be because I am dumb.
In order to promote a growth mindset through your feedback, it is important to provide praise around effort and how the problem was solved, rather than the innate ability to solve problems. For example, if a student writes a really well-developed paragraph, notice that they put a lot of effort into writing it, that they thought through what they wanted to write, and that they followed the steps for writing a good paragraph. This way, when they are writing a paragraph in the future, and they struggle, they can remember the feedback you provided to make the steps repeatable.
Similarly, it is important to avoid phrases of encouragement that rely on a student’s ability. For example, if a student is struggling and you want to be encouraging, you might find yourself saying something like, “You can do this! You’re so bright.” While it is helpful to encourage your student’s confidence, if they can’t do whatever you are asking them to do, then they will feel that maybe they aren’t as bright as you claim.
Again, it is helpful to focus on process when a student is struggling. If a student gets something wrong or is struggling to complete a process, go back to what they can do, not who or what they are. Focus first on what they’ve done correctly. For example, if a student solves a math problem wrong, before providing correction, first celebrate the way she set up the problem or remembered the order of operations. Then, show her the correct way to solve the problem and reinforce that the more she practices this problem type, the more likely she will be to get it correct in the future.
The really important thing to remember when you ae teaching a growth mindset to a child is that you provide feedback that focuses on the process, on the effort, and on what he or she is doing right. If you provide feedback on who the child is—smart, slow, quick, intelligent—and if that is the only feedback that you provide, then replicating success is much harder when the student struggles.