Praising

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Image courtesy of  Evan Hahn

I was doing a practicum observation the other day and I asked the instructor what she would like me to focus on. She mentioned a couple of other items before mentioning how she gives feedback to the students. “I think I praise them too much,” she stated. It got me thinking, can we praise students “too much”?

Giving correction in the classroom is something that most teachers struggle with. How can we give students correction without making them feel discouraged? I find it interesting that we talk about give out too much correction, but we rarely discuss too much praise.

For myself, I believe that you can’t give too much praise, but you can give false praise. When a students does something well and we give praise, that student can usually sense whether that accolade is genuine or superfluous. I think the real issue isn’t whether we give too much praise, but instead we should be looking at the motives behind those words. I feel there are three main reasons for giving praise:

  1. to get the students to like us.
  2. to balance out the critiques.
  3. because we feel they have achieved something and we are happy for them.
The first two are fairly selfish reasons. Both of those are centred around the instructor, whereas the third one is the only genuine praise. What harm comes from giving students genuine praise? I feel we don’t do it enough. We are quick to give a “good job”, but I am not sure that I am always able to give it with the best of intentions. In my time observing instructors, it is clear to me when they are giving ‘false’ praise, and I am quite certain I am able to know when it comes from the heart. It usually shows in how they interact with the student before and afterward. It comes across in their tone and body language.

There are some who believe we ‘coddle’ our students and pander to their every needs. True, that does happen sometimes. Once again, I believe that someone who takes the students’ needs truly to heart will be able to give the proper correction and praise. When a student makes progress, let them know. When they need a push, coax them along. I don’t feel we can give them too much praise, especially when we see them conquer their problems and come out on the other side victorious. I am not a cheerleader trying to get the crowd motivated, I am a teacher.

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8 thoughts on “Praising

  1. It’s an interesting issue, Nathan. I wonder if its valid to include a fourth reason for praise, a manipulative one but with the student’s interest in mind. We all spend more time and effort at things people around us tell us we’re good at. It’s maybe even how we chiefly got into whatever careers we’re in. I know with my own son, just telling him he was good at ping pong (he wasn’t, he was only like 5 after all), made him better at it. Yeah, it’s a white lie to praise where it isn’t quite due, but so is “No” when asked if a bum looks fat in these.

    1. Good point, Kevin, but if you did that all of the time, the person is eventually going to tune you out. You tend to lose credibility and the real praise will start to ring hollow.

      It boils down to the intention of the question. In both of these cases, the recipient is asking for praise, not the real answer. The child may not be aware that is what they are asking for, but they know they want your approval. Genuine praise tends to more spontaneous, in the moment.

      Of course, this is just my opinion. I could be way off base.

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I always appreciate it.

  2. Hmm. My first reaction early on was yes, we can praise too much, but I think it’s the false praise you’ve suggested that we do too much. Many “good jobs” and “ok, nice try” and “well done” accompany wrong answers or poorly thought-out ideas, but at the expense of demanding higher quality, we spare feelings. In these cases, I’d rather not temper every criticism with a compliment.

    On the other hand, when praise is due, praise is due. I wouldn’t suggest that deserved praise is ever too much. Students, especially younger, need the constant encouragement and affirmation from adults. When we as teachers do this, sometimes the results from the students themselves can be surprisingly improved.

    1. I like the way you said this, “I’d rather not temper every criticism with a compliment.”

      It appears we are on the same page, Tyson. Thanks for the comment.

      “Great job!” 😉

  3. It’s the false praise, as you mentioned, that can be overly done. In fact, I have seen many teachers throw out a “good job” as a signal that the activity has finished and the class should move into the next step! The positive phrase just bounces off the students.

    But sincere praise tells students what they did well, which allows them to repeat their actions. For example, a student finally uses a bit of active listening skills, and with praise the student knows that he/she should try to repeat his/her efforts.

    1. Exactly. I think you hit on something with your remark on using it as a ‘signal’. We need to be careful about how we use praise. I am going to try and see if I do that. If I am, I need to change that.

      Really good comment. Thank you for sharing. This is what I am hoping for with this blog. I want it to be a place for sharing. It isn’t about me, it’s about “we”. Thanks for being a part of it.

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