Choice Words: How You Say Something Matters

3 Feb

Let’s go back to my post a week ago about growth mindset and agency.  People who feel like intelligence is malleable and can increase are more likely to choose and persevere at difficult tasks than people who feel like intelligence is fixed.  Add on to that some theories on agency–that people with a high sense of agency attribute success to their own hard work and people with a low sense of agency attribute success to luck–and you have the makings for two very different kinds of learners.

Adults can help children develop a growth mindset in how we talk to them, and we can also help them to develop an “internal locus of control,” or high sense of self-agency.  Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher wrote a nice article that articulates some of the ways we can praise and question children to help develop these skills.

They’re simple techniques, but they can feel awkward to implement the first few (or ten) times that you try them.  It’s not the way most of us experienced praise or reinforcement growing up.  You’ll also have the experience of asking a child, “Wow, I see you persevered even when it was difficult.  How did you do that?” and they’ll stare at you blankly and say, “I don’t know…” but it’s new for them too.  After a while, if you keep at it (and teach in to ways we can persevere, or be kind, or try strategies, etc) kids will grow more metacognitive and be able to respond with some thoughts about how or why they were successful.



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