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The Dark Side of Self-Esteem

0 Written by: | Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 10:00am

After years of doling out gold star stickers and supportive smiles, teachers in some school districts — including Montgomery County are learning a hard lesson:  that building students’ self esteem may make them into worse learners.

According to several studies, the foundation of many schools’ approach to self-esteem building (giving praise without worrying too much about actual outcomes) doesn’t help students learn.  Instead of offering empty praise, teachers should be rewarding students for real-world skills that will help them throughout their lives:  persistence, risk-taking, resilience.

Even praising students for being smart can backfire.  Studies have shown that students who are rewarded for their braininess become less likely to seek out challenges, presumably because they don’t want to erode their reputations as brainiacs. This can result in bright kids who tend to coast through assignments that are too easy for them, and/or kids who become frustrated when success isn’t immediate. Smart students become, in effect, “praise junkies.”

Montgomery County schools are among many nationwide that are incorporating new neuroscience findings into their education philosophies. What kind of positive feedback do you think is helpful for teachers (and parents!) to dole out?

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