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Praise, Correction, And Growth Mindsets


In Dr Carol Dweck’s 2017 re-release of her book Mindsets, she defined the growth mindset as being “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies and help from others.”


This idea was something she connected to numerous life experiences, however, it was easily applicable to academia. As academia and academic value is delivered to children in their formative years, accessing, and understanding the importance of words at this stage was essential.


Sociologists explained that secondary forms of socialisation, which start early in a child’s development, are external forces that influence their behaviour, as well as their understanding of societal norms, values and belief. The agencies of socialisation, including the education system introduce the child to the way the wider world works.


So, when going into academia, even at a tender age, a child learns to understand that they will be praised for being correct. The responses to incorrect answers may vary depending on tone, classroom performance, classroom engagement and wider context. However, the primary teaching that derives from the school system in this instance, is that being correct is what matters.


Dweck’s book contained an anecdote from childhood, expressing that when she moved to a new school in childhood, and was faced with things she didn’t understand, she found herself bursting into tears, because the other children in her class understood what the nuanced classroom expectations were. This is a microcosm for societal norms: classroom norms. With every other child able to understand what the “correct” place to write their name on a piece of A4 paper is, and a young Dweck unable to understand why she doesn’t know where her name ought to go.


This idea of being correct, can be enforced further by other agencies of socialisation. For example, some parents take their children to tuition centres to improve their understanding of maths or literacy. However, many of these centres are understaffed, and due to the age range of children that attend, are incapable of giving one-to-one help, or lessons, to help a child improve. Instead, in some places, the wrong answers would be marked as incorrect and handed back to the child to perform “corrections”. This system in itself is controversial through the lens of creating a positive relationship with academia and failure. Why can we not accept that a six-year-old, who has come straight from school, might be too cranky to want to do her three times tables again, and again and again, because she gets six times three and seven times three mixed up?


Alternatively, it may be the parents themselves, desperate to make sure their child has the best start in life, and manage to achieve academic success, that continues to turn up the heat within the house, whether that be by limiting leisure time, or insisting that all homework is done the moment it is set, or even ensuring that every piece of work for school is done “perfectly”. This idea of perfection or correctness can be internalised without malcontent from the parent. Good intentions, unfortunately, can be lost in translation.


Dweck reported in her book that, when she spoke with children that existed within a fixed mindset, that they informed her, and her colleagues that “they get constant messages of judgment from their parents. they say they feel as if their traits are being measured all the time”.


Exploring this, Dweck recorded some praise that she had heard parents give their children:


“You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!”


“Look at that drawing, Martha, is he the next Picasso or what?”


“You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!”


She acknowledged that on the surface, these remarks appear to be praise, without consequence. However, the use of obsequious language, particularly when stressing the importance of what is regarded to be a success, the child is faced with a second, implied message, which parents may not consider when speaking:


“If I don’t learn quickly, I’m not smart.”


“I shouldn’t try anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.”


“I’d better quit studying or thy won’t think I’m brilliant.”


The implied negatives that derive from these praises, can greatly damage a child’s self-esteem and their need for academic validation. Dweck acknowledged that children who are highlighted to have ‘a natural talent’ may be co-erced to follow that path, whether or not the child has a passion for it. And, furthermore, these individuals who are considered a natural talent, will internalise the praise derived from their supposed natural talent and find themselves “carried away with their superiority” and subsequently, will not necessarily “learn how to work hard or how to cope with setbacks” which may leave them stunted when it comes to performance.


Dweck found that “on the whole, people in the fixed mindset prefer effortless success”, which explained why “when people with a fixed mindset fail their test, they beat themselves up”. And although “failure can be a painful experience” for those who exist within a growth mindset, they were able to recover from the bump in the road with lesser impact on their self-esteem or perceived sense of self.


We must teach children, that being right, although important, is not the only aspect of themselves that has value. Having talent does not make you better than anyone else. Something which is often explored in fiction focused on sport. Hard work, and determination, and the choices you make, have an influence on your success. But, you need to apply yourself to continue to achieve after the initial skill shock has worn off. You can’t always be the smartest in the room, or the fastest in the room. You must, sometimes, be grateful to have put your foot in the door.


As Dweck says: “Prodigies or not we all have interests that can blossom into abilities.”



The Agile Works, based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra, is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.


He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government. We strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.


To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address: arvind@theagileworks.com

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