Monday, March 21, 2011

tell it like it is

"'There's no question you get the best results with highly contingent praise and criticism,'"says Baumeister. 'That means praising exactly what you did right and criticizing exactly what you did wrong. Just praising kids regardless of how they do contains very little useful information; if anything, it has a negative effect on learning. I've had to revise my opinions about self-esteem several times; I'm kind of done with it. I don't think it can deliver much of what we want. Self-control, self-regulation—these give a whole lot more bang for the buck, deliver a lot more in practical results. I think self-esteem is relegated, if not to Siberia, at least to the Urals.'

"Perhaps the final banishment of the idea comes from Carol Dweck, PhD, a well-respected professor of psychology at Stanford University, whose latest book is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 'People think that self-esteem is the most important thing in the world, that you can give it to children, almost on a silver platter, by shielding them from criticism and praising their skills and talents,' says Dweck, who has been studying how kids succeed and fail for nearly 40 years. 'It's a very common and harmful belief. In the old days, the parents would be driving kids home from Little League saying, 'When you struck out, you didn't keep your eye on the ball.' Now they say, 'The ref robbed you.' The parents think they're helping them, protecting them from injury. In fact, they're making them so vulnerable that they're not resilient.'

"'What's really effective is praising the process that the child is engaging in,' Dweck explains. "Effort, strategy, perseverance, improvement—these things tell them what to do next time." In one recent experiment, junior high students took a workshop in study skills, but only one group got two 25-minute lessons about how intelligence can be developed, learning that the brain grows new neurons when challenged. In a single semester, that group improved their grades, motivation, and study habits compared with the other. 

"The shift in thinking by researchers like Dweck and Baumeister dovetails with a revolutionary educational philosophy called social and emotional learning, or SEL, which takes the eminently sensible position that if students are going to be intellectual risk takers, they need to feel safe, and teaches a wide range of skills to help them navigate the world. Psychologist and science writer Daniel Goleman's best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, made popular the idea that children, not to mention adults, can and should be instructed about empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively.

'Self-esteem or self-efficacy has to do with a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses,' he says, 'but SEL includes other things: how you manage stress and mobilize paralyzing emotions. Self-esteem is much better reframed as self-mastery.'"


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