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This post is written by teacher and presenter Audrey Friel.

Growth mindset, effort, perseverance, grit, vigor, rigor, wit, flow, daring, motivation, praise, metacognition… it goes on and on. The current verbiage that can strangle a poor, novice, teacher interviewee – or a seasoned teacher like myself!

What does this all mean? How does it translate to the actual classroom? More importantly to the actual student?

Third graders:

“I know if I see the ‘Good Openings’ chart and I read it at the same time, I’ll remember it, Mrs. Friel. So I am going to try it that way this time. Maybe I’ll try dialogue this time. Let’s see how it sounds.”

“I know I have to write the math sentence, say it out loud, and do that ten times in a row. That makes that pathway in my brain strong!”

“Sarah and I want to do our project together. She’s really good at writing the text and I’m really good at illustrating our points! We can teach each other while we learn!”

It is February, and I am glad the words are sinking in for my third graders. I am always hoping they can walk the walk as well as they can now talk the talk. It is a constant for me to reflect upon and improve teaching effort, perseverance, and metacognition for students in this age group.

Recently, I have heard parents and educators say, “What a great effort!” or, “You tried so hard!” or, “As long as you tried your best!” But many times, that is not really the case. Trying does not equal learning. Praising effort is, in fact, the way to go. That is how you use the growth mindset to “grow your brain” as I refer to it to my students. However, beware of empty effort and praise!

…If we don’t work to shift our own mindset about ourselves and our students, then we won’t work to change many other important things in the system necessary to improve education. Furthermore, our efforts to foster growth mindsets in students are likely to fail because we will say and do things that reflect our fixed mindset beliefs, which students will notice…

This means authentically working to become better at what we do throughout our lives, including how we teach and how we create contexts that help students thrive, and making our learning process visible to one another and to students.” Growth Mindset: Clearing Up Some Common Confusions

Not only do they (we!) have to use a growth mindset and have to fail in order to learn, but it is just the beginning. There needs to be a plan to change or improve efforts to make progress from those mistakes. In fact, most times, students have to fail, learn from why it failed, and realign to progress. We, too, do the same. This is really my goal. How can I facilitate the student’s prior error to guide them to try something different toward the possibility of new learning?

I use the example of their favorite video game or app. When you make a mistake, you retry using a new strategy avoiding the same mistake you made before. So then, I use my personal example of a popular game app that uses letters to make words. I’m as obsessed with it as a teenager with their cell phone. I show my students that in order to go to the next level, I have to retry in different ways using prior knowledge to advance. I get frustrated and make varied attempts to moveon to the next level, only to start all over again and meet the next level head on with anticipation and vigor!

So how does this growth mindset, process praise fit in here? We need to praise the process, effort, failure, retry, do-overs of the world. However, don’t fall into that trap of empty praise. If there isn’t a next step that feels like a chance for learning, it’s just a wish. It should feel excitingly frustrating! This is known as flow.

“It’s not just about effort. You also need to learn skills that let you use your brain in a smarter way. . . to get better at something (Yeager & Dweck, 2012.)…”

So how can we change our words and our effort praise to help students grow their mindsets and create conditions for ultimate flow/process/growth? Here’s a great chart with some applications to try by Carol Dweck, the guru of the growth mindset:

Audrey Friel teaches 3rd grade in Closter, New Jersey and leads workshops on mindset. You can contact her at

And her Twitter handle is: @audreykfriel

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