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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 

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Son wesley on monkey barsLast summer, I was reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and I found myself completely taken aback when I read this quote:

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” - Carol Dweck

Not too long after that, I was at the park with my family and for the first time, my son Wesley finally got all the way across the bars. I immediately jumped up with excitement and shouted, “Good job! You’re awesome!” After the words came out of my mouth, I stopped to think about how I’d reacted. I thought through the messages that my praise sent. Did I give him a temporary boost and a smile? Yes. But, what if he didn't get across next time? What would he assume? What about the next challenge he comes across? Will he not take a risk because he will be afraid that he might fail and not be awesome?

Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising brains and talent has the opposite effect of giving children confidence. Instead, it makes them doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. Being purposeful with process feedback on the other hand helps send the message that our intelligence and abilities are changeable, with effort and the right strategies. Do our words say, “You are a developing person” or do they say, “You have fixed-abilities and I’m judging them”?

Some students enter college and have serious anxiety when they get their first B or C. Or they don’t know how to cope when they’ve made a big mistake or a bad decision. Have we given them too much person-oriented praise and focused on their “intelligence” or “abilities” too much? Kids who have received praise for their process are more likely to ask questions, ask for help, focus on strategies for improvement, and not see failure as paralyzing.

I decided I wanted to work on my own language and try to make my feedback more specific. I wanted to give Wesley productive feedback and somehow emphasize the process, the ingredients for success, so that he could learn HOW he was able to accomplish something he wanted to accomplish. So, I asked Wesley, “How did you do that? How did you finally get across?” This made him think through and internalize his process. He paused for a second, then said, “I’ve been practicing every time we come to the park. I’ve also been watching other kids and they were swinging their legs more, so I tried that.” To remind him that working hard at something helps us improve, I added, “I’ve also noticed you worked so hard and you didn’t give up.” 

Person praise is non-productive and it creates “fixed thinking.” It says our talents and abilities are unchangeable. Have you seen your children give up? In that moment, they may have fixed thinking: “Why try if think I can’t change the result?”  When we say, “You are so smart,” children think, “If there are smart kids, then there are dumb kids, and I better not do anything that would show I was born dumb.” Whenever we mark one end of the conversation (smart, talented, athletic), kids can fill in the opposite if they are not successful. On the other hand, productive praise focuses on cause and effect: When you did this, this happened.

Turn Children’s Thinking Towards Process with Productive Praise


(emphasizes a person’s intelligence andabilities and sends the message that these traits are permanent)


(emphasizes persistence, focus, strategies and sends the message that we can always grow and develop)

“Ryan you are so smart. You got an A!”

“I notice when you study really hard, it pays off.”

“Great job! You are such a good boy.”

“Did you notice that when you clean up your toys, your sister doesn’t step or trip on them? Thank you.”

“You are a great reader.”

“When you read your book really smoothly, you understood what you read.”

“You got a 100%. You were born a writer. You are a natural!”

“I noticed when you added dialogue to your piece, I understood how your character felt.”

“Sam- You are a talented soccer player!”

“How did you make that pass? It looked like you thought about about where your partner was headed.”

 “Growth Mindset,” is the idea that says there is no telling where hard work and passion can take us in life. When children have a growth mindset, they will love challenges and enjoy effort.


How can we work on Growth Mindset principles at home?

  1. For your children, model and name your own fixed and growth mindset thinking. “I am having fixed thinking. I’m terrible at this and I want to give up! I’m having trouble hanging this artwork, but I know with help, hard work, and the right strategies, I can do it. I just haven’t figured it out YET.”

  2. Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug!  Show your children mistakes aren't something they need to be ashamed of. When you accidentally spill your drink, say, “HEY, I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW! I won’t be putting my drink near the edge of the counter again.” Talk about what can be learned from mistakes.

  3. Celebrate challenges when things are hard. “Building this bird house is a challenge, but that means our brains are growing. We are learning something new!”

  4. Notice the messages your words send. Are you saying that some people are born a certain way and that won’t change?  “Mom is just not a math person.” Or “Aunt Sarah is a genius.”

  5. Learn something new or take on a new challenge!  When we have fixed thinking, we can find ourselves trying to prove to others we are smart/perfect, rather than seeking a new challenge at the risk of failing or not being “right.” This limits our growth!

  6. Talk about how the brain grows! Scientists are sharing that people have more capacity for life-long learning and brain development than ever thought before. Read books and watch videos about it as a family!

  7. Give productive, process-oriented praise. Give children the ingredients so that they can produce success again.

Let’s help each other create homes that believe in change, where adults and children are focused on process and effort and see mistakes as opportunities for learning.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Lessons for Parents

Video of A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Read Alouds, Videos, and More

Danielle Creamer headshotDanielle Creamer is a Teaching and Learning Consultant for the Curriculum & Instruction Department at Lakota Local Schools. Follow her on Twitter @danicreamer23 or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 11, 2018 at 5:12 PM 181 Comments