I read the following story in The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.
Which child is going to make the most progress; the child praised for his intelligence, or the child praised for her effort? The question has been answered by Professor Carol Dweck.
In an experiment done by Dweck with 500 New York 5th graders (approx 10 years of age), two groups were formed. Both groups then went on to do the same relatively test. At the end of the test one group was praised for their intelligence; 'you must be very clever'; and the other was praised for their effort; 'you must have tried really hard'.
Both groups were then given two options, either a much harder test or one at the same level as the first test. 90% of the children who were praised for their effort chose to do the harder test, whereas a majority of the children praised for their intelligence chose to have the easier test. Dweck feels that this is because those praised for their intelligence are 'playing the game' of not taking risks in their learning so as not to make mistakes; therefore maintaining the impression of being smart.
A third test, much harder test was then given to both groups. The effort group really dug in, trying new strategies. This group commented on how much they liked doing the test. The intelligent group overwhelmingly disliked doing the test; they took it as proof that they weren't smart.
The experiment then went back to students doing the initial test again. As you have probably guessed, the effort group improved their results by 30%, whereas the intelligent groups overall results declined by 20%. Dweck then went on to repeat the experiment five times with different groups of students, and each time came up with the same result.
The message here is that a few simple words of seemingly positive feedback can have a significant impact on future learning of students. This demonstrates the powerful messages that we as teachers can convey to our students and the need to choose our words carefully.