Late Start Days


Letting Go of the Reins

Kerry Bailey


No, this isn’t Santa, getting out of his sleigh and hanging up his jingle bells, this is the name of a great session that our Harpswell teachers and ed techs staff spent with Judy Johnson (our District Literacy Coordinator) during our Wednesday Late Start! It was an example of one of the many valuable and excellent late start learning sessions that we hold weekly throughout MSAD#75!


As educators, we all spend a lot of time thinking about how to be better teachers, how to make every lesson count, how to engage our learners and/or how to “make a difference” with our kids. As parents we are also our child’s teachers and the same ideas apply! The education terms used about this topic are often “growth mindset” or “grit”. The important part of this is how to help students build good habits for staying with a difficult problem or working tenaciously to solve it.


Judy asked us to take a look at Carol Dwek’s research study about what effect specific types of praise have on children’s development. In the study, her team took a look at 500 fifth grade children across the United States. The study highlighted how very powerful the right type of praise can be in helping students be successful. Here is a summary of the study. (As the researchers said, “The results will blow your mind!”) You can watch the Interview below:


How does the way a child is praised affect their mindset and performance?

Interview content from the video about the research that was done:

To start with, Carol Dweck and her team gave all the students a really easy non-verbal IQ test. At the end of the test they praised the students in one of two ways:

1. One group was praised for their intelligence:

"Wow great job - You must be really smart at this"

2. The other group was praised for their effort:

"Wow great job - You must have worked really hard at this"

After praising the children they gave them an option for the next test.

1. One choice was to take a harder test that Dweck told the children would be quite difficult, but a great opportunity to learn and grow.

2. The other choice was to take a second test that was similar to the first, and one they would surely do well on.

67% of the students that were praised for their intelligence chose the easier option.

92% of the students that were praised for their effort chose the harder option!


The next test they gave the students was incredibly difficult - One that they would surely all fail. Carol Dweck wanted to look at how the different groups attacked this challenge. She noticed:


1. The effort group worked harder, longer, and actually enjoyed this test more than the intelligence group

2. The intelligence group quickly became frustrated and gave up early.


For the final step of the study Carol Dweck and her team gave all of the students a test that was just as easy as the first. The results are pretty convincing:


1. The intelligence group actually did worse on this test than they did on the first.

Their average score dropped by 20%

2. The effort group did better.

Their average score increased by 30%.


It's amazing that such a subtle difference in the way that they were praised had such an impact on the students and their mindsets. Praising EFFORT rather than INTELLIGENCE greatly influenced the child’s growth mindset!


So what does this mean for us as teachers and parents?

We should be letting go of the reins! We should be praising the efforts our children are making and noticing the processes they are using. We should encourage them try to figure things out without our interference. We should be letting them do the “work”. Judy shared suggestions from a book by Peter Johnson called Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Focus on the EFFORT (“I liked the way you figured that out”). WAIT and be silent to allow a child enough time to figure words or ideas out on their own. This conveys the message to him or her that the child will be able to figure it out. Notice and point out the correct part of what the child says or does so that he or she will feel confident to tackle new or harder learning. Celebrate how a child has solved a problem “tell me how you figured that problem out!”

Our staff learned a lot from this session and we will work to “let go of the reins”, maintaining a growth mindset about what helps our students