My second-grade daughter started piano lessons last fall. Eight months later, she's starting to sound pretty good.
During the past week, her rendition of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" is sounding really good. I find myself humming along and when she's finished, I praise her: "Wow, babe, that was really good!"
Also this past week, a friend of mine pointed me toward the research of Professor Carol Dweck, A Stanford University psychologist who studies motivation in children and adults, Professor Dweck's research focuses on how people's belief about intelligence impacts how much they learn.
Some young people, she writes, believe that Intelligence or skill depends on innate ability. You either have it or you don't. She calls this a "fixed mind-set."
Other young people believe that intelligence and skills can be developed through education and hard work. They relish the challenge of learning because they believe it will pay off. She calls this a "growth-oriented" mind-set.
Not surprisingly, she finds that students who are growth-oriented do better in school than those who have a fixed mind-set.
And in a recent piece in Scientific American, she has some advice for parents: praising your child's effort is better than praising their achievement. This is because praising effort reinforces the growth mind-set.
This got me thinking: Why is my second-grader suddenly sounding better on the piano after eight months of lessons? Is it because she's recently learned some particular new skills? Have we finally discovered that she has talent?
No, it's because she's learning faster now than she was before. And she's learning faster because she's trying harder and spending more time practicing. She's spending more time practicing because she's enjoying it more. And she's enjoying it more because she's feeling successful.
This past week, it seems that she "broke through" on the hardest part of "Coming 'Round the Mountain." She played it over and over and over again (yes, sometimes I wanted to escape!) until her halting and mistake-riddled attempts were transformed into a fluent and spirited melody.
I think Professor Dweck is right. Surely, I don't believe I did any harm by praising her when she "broke through" and found success. But even more important, I should be praising her for her effort...for her determination to keep trying until she gets it right. She should be hearing from me after half an hour of working hard on something that is difficult: "I'm so proud of you for keeping at it!"
That way, I can help her develop a growth mind-set, the greatest gift of all.