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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Montessori actively discourages praise

Until June 2011, my ideas of Montessori were based on what i saw in Montessori schools. I got fascinated by the kids in Montessori by watching their ability to focus on an activity for a long period, even for a hour, at the age of 5. So when I  formally started doing a diploma course in Montessori in Bangalore to understand the underlying principles of Montessori philosophy, i was surprised. Despite spending 7 years in researching the principles of developing a work-life career, I was surprised to note that the learning principles used in Montessori , which started in 1907, are also useful even in work-life learning. Here is one such principle: Praise is not useful for learning.

Unlike traditional schooling method, Montessori discourages praise. If the student does an activity well, the teacher ( or called as Adult in Montessori method) simply acknowledges the completion of activity by a nod, a smile and simply takes up the next activity. No further praise is offered.

According to the Montessori philosophy, praise is not offered to children because of three specific reasons.

1. Praise actively discourages  a child to pick up difficult activities

From the 300+ activities in a Montessori environment in Montessori school, a child chooses his own activity to do. If a child is praised for doing an activity well, the child is more likely to link the 'praise' with the 'completion of the activity'. And if he does so, he is not likely to choose a difficult activity, which he thinks he cannot do well. This discourages experimentation and challenge. The learning of child stops due to fear of failing.

2. Praise makes a child choose an activity for helping him look 'smart'. 

Because of praise, the child wants to chose an activity only if he can look smart. He is more concerned with looking smart than learning anything new. A Montessorian Adult watches his student carefully all the time. If a child is not choosing a new activity,  the Adult knows that he has to intervene subtly.

You can observe this in behaviour in a child if you are a teacher or parent. For instance, you will often find some children do activities 'at home' so that they can look smart in the 'class'. They are more likely to raise hands for any questions, even when they do not know the right answers. They are more likely to ask 'unrelated questions' in a class to look smart, instead of asking questions to learn anything new.

3. Praise develops a dysfunctional mind set in the child 

If praise continues for a longer time, the child starts considering his 'intelligence' as fixed.  He starts believing that he is good because his innate intelligence is high. He is brilliant because he is born brilliant. Psychologists call it development of fixed mindset visavis growth mindset. Carol Dweck has done a very good work on this aspect. For more details, see this website.

With fixed mind set, the child believes that his intelligence is fixed. If he fails in completing a difficult activity, he perceives his mistakes as failures.On the other hand, growth mindset helps the child take up a difficult activity, because he believes that his 'intelligence' can be grown by repeated attempts. He considers mistakes as part of the process of learning. If you want to check your own mind set or your child's mindset, go to this website and check it out.

Conclusion to be used later 

If you see your child is not performing a difficult activity, you should be really worried . If your child is more concerned of doing new activities to look smart, you should be concerned. At least you can start change the way you praise your child.

Start praising his effort, instead of praising his nature or intelligence. If he finishes some activity, praise him by saying 'You were good in finishing that activity', instead of praising him "You were brilliant'.Or say " You must have studied hard". This type of praise redirects his attention to 'controllable effort' , away from his 'innate intelligence'. That is the first step in helping your child get into the growth mindset. 

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