Talking to girls (and boys)

I talk with adolescents all day, but I have limited experience with little kids. I get scared when confronted with a tiny, semi-verbal creature and tend to fall back on my instincts — which, I’m ashamed to say, with girls means I often compliment them on some aspect of their appearance. They (and their parents) are so obviously proud of their cute dress or hair bow! Lisa Bloom’s post at HuffPo has some advice on how to do better:

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers.

I bet little girls and boys aren’t asked about their minds often enough. This seems like good advice for both genders.

And while we’re at it, we talk about this “fixed mindset vs. growth mindset” stuff a lot in faculty meetings. I frequently find myself checking “You’re so good at this” statements before they come out of my mouth now and switching to “You worked so hard”:

…the students with a growth mind-set felt that learning was a more important goal in school than getting good grades. In addition, they held hard work in high regard, believing that the more you labored at something, the better you would become at it…. The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability.

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4 Responses to Talking to girls (and boys)

  1. Sam says:

    Ha! I love it. …But everybody gets nerd analogies, right?

  2. Matt E says:

    I like to tell my students that effort is like a vector, in that it has both a magnitude and a direction. Your magnitude could be immense, but if it’s not in the right direction, it won’t result in quality work.

    Unfortunately, I can only use this analogy with students who are familiar with vectors, and students who are familiar with vectors typically do not require this particular pep talk.

  3. Sam says:

    Yup, Karen made the same point on FB, and it’s a really good one. Effort does not automatically lead to quality. My impression is that “You worked so hard” is supposed to come when the work *is* of quality. “I can see you worked really hard on this, but let’s talk about how to be more successful” is important for kids to hear, too (assuming they did, in fact, work hard).

    It’s interesting, because right now I’m in GED mode, and there the main impediment to success seems to be attitude. The kids who come in ready to work tend to succeed; the ones who are full of excuses and “This is too hard for me” or “This is boring; I don’t wanna” don’t get anywhere. Developing a good attitude isn’t easy, especially when most of your life has told you that you can’t do x or that you’re dumb for having trouble with multiplication at 19. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can encourage that in the small amounts of time I spend with them.

  4. Matt E says:

    Replacing “You’re so good at ___” with “You worked so hard” (why can’t we say both things?) is great if the hard work actually did result in high-quality output and/or solid evidence of learning. But if praise for effort is handed out indiscriminately, you can wind up with students who will, for example, turn in garbage for an assignment, yet claim they should receive an “A” because they “worked so hard.”

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