Empty praise is... well, empty, and it may do more harm than good. While this may be the obvious takeaway from a recent Washington Post article, the piece contains a surprisingly practical trove of ideas on how to teach and use the concept of malleable intelligence to help students not only achieve, but also acquire a sense of grit and perseverance (much as a NYT article called for earlier this year).
Explicit instruction on the brain's malleability establishes a shared understanding that people aren't born successful and smart, these things must be (and can be) achieved through hard work and perseverance. This foundation has as much "bang for your buck" as any other classroom routine introduced at the beginning of the year. But in order to really cash in on that investment, teachers must reinforce the idea through more specific and well-deserved praise in working towards, even struggling to achieve explicit standards.
This approach is a complete 180 for many teachers, who've only been trained on the need to raise self-esteem. Anything not completely positive and encouraging is perceived as a direct threat to a child's fragile ego. Will we see the end of "GREAT TRY (on that completely wrong answer)"?