Using Praise to Enhance Student Resilience and Learning Outcomes
Helping students 'bounce back' in the face of difficulties

Introduction

Carol Dwyer, PhD, Educational Testing Service

Teachers are often puzzled about what to do when students don’t make an effort to learn, or when they become discouraged by setbacks, or by material they perceive to be too difficult. One cause of this behavior is the mindset that many students have about their own intelligence [In this document, intelligence is defined as general intellectual competence as it affects the probability of one’s academic success. Researchers in intelligence, competence and expertise (see, for example, Sternberg, 2005) offer more technical definitions, but a discussion of these is outside the scope of this document]. Research has clearly demonstrated that having the mindset that you are either smart or not smart has serious negative consequences for learning. Fortunately, one powerful way that you can intervene as a teacher is by being careful about how you give students praise. [In this document, praise refers to constructive feedback given to students by teachers and others on specific academic products. Praise refers only to positive feedback; feedback alone can be either positive or negative.] Offering praise for students’ work and efforts can alter this mindset so that students can begin to view their own intelligence as something that can be developed. This mind-set of developing intelligence will increase students’ ability to “bounce back” in the face of academic setbacks and other difficulties.