How We Praise Our Students Is Just As Important As What We Teach Them

We all want to nurture our students when we see something unique in their creative work, but the way in which we do it can have long-term effects. Recent studies have found that praising a child as being “talented” or “smart” can actually harm their potential. Not what you expected?

Consider this: if someone thinks that you are smart or talented, and what you are doing is great, probably the last thing that you want is to do something to disprove it. After all — if you’re talented and smart, doesn’t that mean that you’re “special” in the eyes of adults and your peers? Wouldn’t it be safer to not take a risk doing something that you may or may not be as successful at, and simply stick with what you know you will be praised for?

When you follow the logic, it exposes how simple praises such as: “That looks so good,” “You’ve got such talent,” or ‘I’m so impressed with how you…” sabotage the very qualities that we, as Teaching Artists, try to promote in our students: engagement, risk taking, and an overall desire to try

While it may seem counterintuitive at first, telling a young person “I can see that you’ve put a lot of effort into what you’ve done” and “You’ve done a good job with…and this is why…” stimulate a desire in the child to extend themselves regardless if they are considered a “talented” student or not. It moves their focus away from the final product and onto the process, which might help students deal with disappointment if their efforts aren’t seen as somehow being special or talented. It also gives them the okay to focus on the attempt and the problem-solving aspects, which help to underline the moments when they do succeed, ultimately deepening the impact of the experience.

Praising the processes rather than the product increases their self-confidence and helps to stimulate their engagement and desire to push further as they invest in future projects, affecting the value they place on their efforts and accomplishments both now and in the future.

Further reading on this subject:

Gwen Terry About Gwen Terry
Gwendolyn Terry is a Chicago-based installation artist. She has worked professionally designing and installing theatrical sets, architectural facades, and retail window displays. In addition to creating commissioned objects and installations, she piloted an artistic internship program for a national cooperation, mentoring and training emergent display artists. Besides Marwen, Gwendolyn is also a Teaching Artist for CAPE, collaborating with CPS teachers to integrate art into their CORE curriculum. You can learn more about Gwendolyn and her work at:

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