“Miss, Is this OK?” Reflecting on… resilience and growth mindsets.

This week’s colleague-author is Tina Herringshaw whose research has focused on Growth Mindsets.  Here she reflects on empty praise, meaningful responses and the power of videoing yourself as a teacher.

As a reflective practitioner I have been part of numerous research groups at JMS looking at a wide variety of educational research, however I still found that my main issue with my lessons was that my students would constantly ask for re-assurance. ‘Miss, is this ok?’

Teaching a visual art subject has its difficulties as we each see art differently. However we teach a set of fundamental rules that students use to develop skills and analyse their work to know how to improve. Why then did I still have endless students needing confirmation that their work is ‘correct’ or ‘nice’?

We always teach our first yr7 art lesson to dispel the myth that you are either born ‘good’ at art or not.  By teaching them to use their powers of observation to improve their first effort at drawing a common object (say, a tomato) we show them that just as we learn how to walk, talk or ride a bike and we can learn how to get better at art.   Through further discussion with an ex-colleague of mine – Lucy Dusgupta, I made the link that the ideas behind this lesson are at the core of Growth Mindset. I wanted to find to out more. How can I build resilience in students so they ‘know’ they are doing well, and can use feedback to help them improve?

To start my reading, Lucy shared with me her  MSc dissertation ‘Exploring strategies that foster a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset in previously high attaining secondary school mathematics students’.  I then started to read more including two articles by Carol Dweck, the leading researcher in this field: ‘The Perils and Promises of Praise’, and ‘Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’’.  Dweck states:

‘Students’ mindsets  –  how they perceive their abilities  –  played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement.’

I became interested in how teachers’ feedback can limit students’ mindsets, potentially driving their need for approval of their work.  Working with a group of interested teachers we observed each other  teach and then discussed the feedback we gave.  We used an observation template from Lucy Dasgupta’s research to help us focus our observations.  Our reading and observations helped us to identify a goal: we wanted to remove “empty praise” (‘yes’, ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘well done’) from our practice and replace it with meaningful feedback that promoted progress. Dweck explains why this matters:

‘Many(educators) believe that praising a students’ intelligence builds their confidence and motivation to learn, and students’ inherent intelligence is the major cause of their achievement in school. Our research has shown that the first belief is false and the second can be harmful – even for the most competent students.’

We began videoing ourselves and analysing our key phrases we used. This was a very useful reflective tool.  Even after a year of aiming to use only growth mindset responses I still found that at times I gave empty praise; it is a hard habit to break.  I tried different ways of giving meaningful praise with useful feedback to build resilience. For instance, ‘you have managed to sew accurately around that shape, now see if you can add a second layer to build more detail to your design’. I found it hard to not add on the phrase ‘well done’ at the end. It felt unfinished, so I often used ‘Ok’. I am still trying to practice not using any empty praise in my feedback. Evaluating my practice regularly through videos, helps to make me aware of where I use filler words and empty praise.

In summary being part of the R&I group on Growth Mindset has helped me to build resilience highlighting and altering my practice. It is hard to say whether the number of students seeking validation and asking ‘Is this ok’ has dropped?  They get encouraged to this way of thinking in lots of ways over a long period of time.  What I do know is that I’m more aware of my responses, so if my students do ask me, my response is to guide them towards the success criteria to self-evaluate and less of me giving them an unproductive answer. I aim to give them the tools to work out the answers so they don’t need me to tell them if it’s ‘ok’. I try to ensure my interventions will help to boost their motivation, resilience and learning.

Questions to help me reflect on the impact of my responses to student questions:

  • Is the student seeking meaningful feedback or praise and reassurance?
  • If I have offered praise, have I explained what they have done well and why the work is successful, or just offered ‘empty’ praise?
  • Why do they need me to tell them if the work is ‘good’ or ‘ok’? What would help them to work this out for themselves?
  • What will help me identify and change my classroom habits when I want to develop new teaching strategies?


If you are interested in reading more, Carol Dweck’s ‘The Perils and Promises of Praise’ can be found here:  http://www.helpwithteaching.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/The-Perils-and-Promises-of-Praise-Carol-S-Dweck.pdf  and ‘Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’’ can be found here:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html


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