By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
A goal of educators is to help children to become intrinsically motivated.
Children's self-worth develops as an aside from working hard, surmounting
frustrations, and overcoming obstacles. Honest praise provides children
with the opportunity to gain a realistic understanding of their strengths
and weaknesses. In order to feel strong, confident and independent, children
must receive truthful valuation. Children, who have grown accustomed to
continuous applause, may develop anxiety about their abilities, a fear
of failure, a reluctance to try new things, and be ill-prepared to cope
with future setbacks.
Effective praise focuses on a child's effort rather than on what is actually
accomplished. When educators give genuine praise that is specific, spontaneous
and well-deserved, it encourages continuous learning and decreases competition
How can educators use praise effectively?
- Think in terms of acknowledgment and encouragement rather than praise. Praise
helps most when it conveys not only approval but information about the progress
a child is making. For example, "You have been trying
so hard to learn those new words and now you are able to read the whole story!"
- Demonstrate interest and acceptance in children because they have innate value
that is not contingent on their work. For example, say, "(Child's
name), I'm glad you are in my class."
- Use positive body language such as smiling, looking directly at the child,
standing close, listening intently, and assisting when needed.
- Acknowledge a child's effort or progress without judgment using clear, specific
language. Offering descriptive praise shows that you are paying close attention.
"I noticed how you took time to show the new student around the school. I
am sure she appreciated the help."
" I can see that you enjoy math. You have worked on these problems for over half
" I'm glad to see you are working so hard on your spelling words!"
Whenever possible, take the time to say something similar to the above
examples, instead of using a generic response like, "Great work," "That's
terrific!" or "You're
Communicate constructive observations. For example, say,
"You listened without interrupting."
"John is sharing with Thomas."
"Lily is waiting patiently in line."
"Margaret and Suzanne are working quietly."
"You put the books away without being asked."
Acknowledge a child's specific behavior rather than commenting
on his/her character. For example, "Since you
have been doing all your math homework, you have brought up your grade!" rather
than saying, "You are such a
Foster children's discussion and evaluation of their work
by asking questions, "I
can see that you worked hard on this project. Can you tell me about it?" or "How
do you feel about your report? Is there anything else that needs to be done?" When
adults listen to children, they are demonstrating interest
Encourage positive character traits in students by naming
them. For example, "Boys
and girls, I appreciate each of you being quiet while
I talked to Mrs. Jones. You were being respectful."
Relate praise to effort and to how it benefited the child
as well as others. Say things like, "Since
you remembered to return your homework this week, you
have done better in math
and I have had more time to spend helping the other
Promote initiative and attempting new skills. For example, "You listened
well and followed directions without any help," and "Last
week you could not kick the ball, but you practiced,
and now you
Encourage perseverance and independence by saying things
such as, "That experiment
did not work out. What's next?" and "Instead
of asking for help, you looked up the word in the dictionary!"
Acknowledge independent thought and creativity, "That's
an interesting idea. Tell me more."
Reinforce problem-solving skills by saying things like, "As
a group you decided who would be responsible for each
part of the project."
Sometimes privately compliment in order to provide an opportunity
for an open, honest exchange. This will also decrease student competition
that can occur when children feel that you favor some more than others.
Reserve exuberant praise for outstanding effort.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 9/03
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