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Praising effort not talent

One of the most useful things you can do to support children with maths is to help them develop positive attitudes to learning.

A key part of this is the way in which we praise children.

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What does "praising effort" mean?

Praising effort means giving positive feedback that focuses on the work that has gone into something. Without thinking about it, we often give praise that suggests the child just has a natural talent for maths.

Our top tip is to highlight the effort that has gone into what they’re doing, rather than the idea that they are simply good at it.

Examples of effort vs talent phrases

Here are some example of the things we often say which focus on talent, and how we can adjust them to focus on effort.

While positive feedback for children is always good, there are better ways we can phrase praise to encourage them further.

Instead of... Try to say...
Well done, you're so clever. Well done for working so hard at that.
You're naturally really good at this. You've learned so much, well done.
It's amazing that maths is so easy for you. It's great that you kept going with that, even when it was tricky.

* These examples were inspired by Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck's research, via More information can be found on pages 11-14.

Examples of how we can praise effort over talent

What is the difference?

Did you notice the difference between the examples given? You can tell if you're praising talent because the focus is on ability or the answer they got.

Praising talent often involves using language like clever, naturally, really good or easy for you.

When we are praising effort, we talk about the process of getting the answer and the work that was done, instead of ability or whether the answer is right.

We use phrases like working hard, learning and kept going with that.

Parents sitting with their daughter to learn together on the computer

If young people are to become powerful citizens with full control over their lives then they need to be able to reason mathematically - to think logically, compare numbers, analyse evidence, and reason with numbers."

— The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn and Love Maths

Why it matters

You might be wondering if praising effort can really make much difference?

It has a surprising effect on the way children feel about maths, and their attitude towards learning. This then affects how likely they are to get on well with maths at school.

" giving them easy tasks that they can dispatch without effort or mistakes, we can teach them the very values that are at the heart of scientific and mathematical contributions: Love of challenge, love of hard work, and the ability to embrace and learn from our inevitable mistakes." — C. Dweck, Mindsets and Maths/Science Achievement 

It redefines success

Children learn that it's hard work that brings success, not natural ability. They see that learning involves effort.

It helps us improve

All learning gets hard at some point. This helps when children make a mistake or are finding maths difficult. If they are used to being praised for being "clever" when they get it right, they may think getting an answer wrong means they aren't clever enough to learn and improve. If they are praised for effort, they know they can try again, and that is how we learn new things!

Confidence breeds confidence

Once an individual discovers that they can improve by persisting, this behaviour can transfer to other parts of life. The confidence gained from overcoming difficulties can help us to believe we can take on other challenges.

We've definitely seen this in our adult learners! 

Put it into practice

All of our 230+ Family Maths Toolkit resources are now available for free!

To help us understand who is using them and how many children we're helping all you have to do is provide a few details, then you can access them all at your leisure. 

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