Why You Should Never Tell Your Students They’re Smart

12 Feb

I grew up during the self-esteem craze of the early nineties. In third grade, I had to take a class called “Me-ology” in which I completed an entire workbook about how special and amazing I was. The theory was that if kids thought they were brilliant and perfect and special, they would do better in school. As I’m sure many of you can imagine, this was an extremely stupid and unsuccessful exercise. All it did was make me painfully sensitive to criticism of any kind.

As it turns out, telling kids that they are smart and great and special actually has a detrimental effect on their performance in school. For example: in one recent study, two groups of students took an easy test and did well on it. One group was told, “You did so well on this test! You must be so smart.” Another group was told, “You did so well on this test! You must have worked so hard to prepare.

Guess who did better on the next test?

By an astonishing margin, the kids who were told “You must have worked so hard!” outperformed the “you must be so smart” kids. And for reasons that are obvious: if you think that you are smart enough to succeed naturally, then you don’t put in any work. If, on the other hand, you recognize that you aren’t perfect, and that it takes hard work to achieve a goal, then you are set up for success.

Set your students up for success. Praise them for hard work and diligence. Prepare them to face a challenge. Don’t feed them the myth that they’re perfect.

After all, they can’t control their IQ score, but they can control their effort and attitude.


9 Responses to “Why You Should Never Tell Your Students They’re Smart”

  1. Sam February 20, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Wow, awesome post.

  2. makethea February 22, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Reblogged this on makethea.

    • thatwritinglady February 22, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it :).

      • makethea February 23, 2012 at 8:16 am #

        You’re welcomed. I have been saying this ever since I have started tutoring. “If students were so smart, why would they take my tutorial session?”

  3. eladatacoach February 24, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you for a powerful personal experience of what went wrong with the attempts to “give” kids self-esteem. Praising effort, instead, promotes effort and effort used to overcome challenge has a wonderfully positive effect on self-image and self-esteem.

    • IntownWriter May 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      I agree. That Writing Lady, some time we should discuss this topic.

  4. Maynard June 3, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Hello my friend! I wish to say that this article is awesome, nice written and come with approximately all vital infos.
    I would like to look more posts like this .


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