A Message from Mrs Cohen

28 April 2017

We have had a very busy start to Term 2 what with a full school Student Protection and Blue card Audit, High School Musical and many ANZAC services, not to mention our core business of learning and teaching.

I was so proud of our students, supported by hard-working and nurturing staff, as they danced, sang, acted, created backdrops, moved scenery and worked tirelessly on all the other jobs associated with a musical. After all this, they arrived at school fresh faced and ready to work on Monday. My heart was certainly warmed on Tuesday morning at 4.50am when I arrived at the Aquatic Carpark to find two busloads of boarders ready to pay their respects to the fallen at the Dawn Service. Girls were offered the opportunity to go to the service, and their attendance is purely voluntary.

I would like to thank all the staff who put in so many hours to ensure that the musical was the wonderful success that it was; in particular: Ms Elms, Ms Evans and Mrs Budden who have been working with the students for months.

I regularly turn to Carol Dweck and her research on the Growth Mindset for inspiration and ideas for articles. The concept of a Growth Mindset is one that we encourage our students to adopt, and teachers support them in this. As part of developing this mindset within students, Dweck has done studies into the most appropriate way of praising children. Judith Locke, a leading Australian psychologist and author of The Bonsai Child, echoes these ideas in her numerous books and presentations on parenting. I would like to share an article by Katrina Schwartz called Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick:

How to praise kids: It’s a hot topic for many parents and educators. A lot of the conversation around it has stemmed from studies by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford who has been researching this specific topic for many years.

“My research shows that praise for intelligence or ability backfires,” said Dweck, who co-authored a seminal research paper on the effects of praise on motivation and performance. “What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.”

But what some might not know is that this paradox is strongest for girls.

Dweck’s research, which focuses on what makes people seek challenging tasks, persist through difficulty and do well over time, has shown that many girls believe their abilities are fixed, that individuals are born with gifts and can’t change. Her research finds that when girls think this way, they often give up, rather than persisting through difficulties. They don’t think they possess the ability to improve, and nowhere is the phenomenon stronger than in maths.

“We have research showing that women who believe maths is an acquired set of skills, not a gift you have or don’t have, fare very well,” Dweck said. “Even when they have a period of difficulty and even when they’re in an environment that they say is full of negative stereotyping.” This research suggests parents and educators should rethink what implicit and explicit messages are being sent to young girls about achievement.

If adults emphasise that all skills are learned through a process of engagement, value challenge and praise efforts to supersede frustration rather than only showing excitement over the right answer, girls will show resilience. It also might help to provide a roadmap to correct the gender imbalance that already exists in fields requiring maths and science, jobs that often involve setbacks, “failing,” and overcoming challenges.

“The kids who are getting this process praise, those are the kids who want the challenge.”

Dweck has found that socialisation and beliefs about learning ability are developed at early ages. “Mother’s praise to their babies, one to three years of age, predicts that child’s mindset and desire for challenge five years later,” Dweck said. “It doesn’t mean it is set in stone, but it means that kind of value system — what you’re praising, what you say is important — it’s sinking in. And the kids who are getting this process praise, strategy and taking on hard things and sticking to them, those are the kids who want the challenge.”

Dweck understands it isn’t easy to praise process and emphasise the fun in challenging situations. Kids like direct praise, but to Dweck lauding achievement is like feeding them junk food – it’s bad for them.

An implicit argument here is that failure in small doses is good …“If you have little failures along the way and have them understand that’s part of learning, and that you can actually derive useful information about what to do next, that’s really useful,” Dweck said.

She believes families should sit around the dinner table discussing the day’s struggles and new strategies for attacking the problem. In life, no one can be perfect and learning to view little failures as learning experiences, or opportunities to grow could be the most valuable lesson of all. (Schwartz, 2013)

Reference: Schwartz, K. (2013). Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick. [online] MindShift. Available at: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/04/24/giving-good-praise-to-girls-what-messages-stick/ [Accessed 12 Jul. 2015].

Mrs Kim Cohen

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