I was with my mother when she received the UCE results of my two sisters that had sat their exams last year. “You are both so intelligent, there is no way you could have failed these exams!” she exclaimed as she excitedly screamed for joy after learning both girls had excelled.
Even when it is not a case of excelling in exams, it is common for parents and teachers to applaud learners as a way of motivating them.
“Praising a child boosts their confidence,” says Robinah Nabbanja, a 30-year-old mother of four. For Nabbanja, there is nothing wrong with letting a child know how good they are at something. “At that age, children crave approval from you as a mother. Knowing his mother believes in him gives him the zeal to work harder,” she reiterates.
Apart from boosting self-esteem, Evelyn Ajole, a nursery teacher and mother of two, says applauding children is a technic she employs both at home and in class. “I praise my daughter even on things one may consider mundane such as tying her shoelaces well. Owing to this, she says, her daughter Tinah is growing up to be a smart and confident girl. And in her class, her learners have posted pleasant results.”
But should a child be praised on everything just to motivate them? Not for Winnie Nakanwagi, a teacher and avid reader of child psychology. To her, a teacher should hail the effort.
“What are you praising? Ideally, one should praise the process; the means through which that child has achieved the said results. When your child finally solves that sum she has been struggling with, as a teacher you should congratulate her on the effort she has put in to practice,” Nakanwagi advises.
Although some psychologists believed that telling children how smart they were would give them confidence in their abilities, others claim doing so will boost their confidence for only a brief moment.
It follows therefore, that praising the process or the learner’s efforts or strategies creates eagerness for solving challenges, persistence in the face of difficulty and improved performance in class.
Often, we learn most when we fail. Let children know that mistakes are a big part of the learning process. There is nothing as gratifying as struggling through a difficult task and finally solving it. The harder the problem, the more satisfying it will be for the child to find a solution.
Competency- based learning
When we get children excited about a subject matter by explaining why it is important for them in the future, we spark interest in learning from the onset.
The goal, therefore, should not be to get ‘ the right answer,’ but rather, to understand a topic at a fundamental, deep level and desire to even learn more.
About a growth mindset According to Dr Carol Dweck, author of The New Psychology of Success, children are similar to adults. They have one of two possible mindsets, a fixed or a growth mindset. Children with a fixed mindset believe they are ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’, talented at something: music, football or painting, whereas those with a growth mindset appreciate that anyone can build themselves into anything they want to be. Dweck found out that children who believed their intelligence could be developed outperformed those who did not.