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No more 'A for effort': New wave of educators drop empty praise

Gustavo Andrade/Thinkstock

Little Billy may have failed his math test, but he still gets an A for effort, right?

Not anymore. Increasingly, teachers are dropping the so-called empty praise, and are challenging children to work through their mistakes instead of focusing on boosting their self-esteem, according to The Washington Post.

Gone are daily affirmations and attendance awards. Teachers are now rewarding students for persistence, risk-taking and resilience, as they recognize that a growing body of research shows easy praise doesn't actually help students.

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Some believe the emphasis on boosting self-esteem encourages children to be "praise junkies," dependant on pats on the back from others rather than pushing themselves to succeed. And as others have pointed out previously, a generation of students born in the 1970s and '80s who were raised on empty praise is now stumbling in colleges and in the workforce as they encounter criticism.

"We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter," psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University told The Washington Post. "That has backfired."

The newspaper also quotes a former D.C. schools chancellor as saying, "We've become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we've lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things."

The Washington Post notes that empty praise isn't only ineffective for students who struggle in school. Praising children for their intelligence is also not helpful, as those who are applauded for being smart tend to avoid taking on challenges that might hurt their reputations. Instead, researchers have found that teaching students about neuroplasticity, the idea that their brains develop as they learn new skills, gives them a sense of control and motivates them to keep trying when they're facing difficulties.

What do you think? Are efforts to boost children's self-esteem doing more harm than good?

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