Tuesday, April 2, 2013

THE POWER AND PERIL OF PRAISE


"Good job!"

“Beautiful work!”

“You are doing such nice work!”

Empty praise.  When I became a Reading Recovery teacher in the early 2000’s, for the first time I saw how empty that praise was.  I grew up as a child, as a mother and as a teacher believing that it was my job to praise a child and to let them know that they were doing a good job.  In my training as a Reading Recovery teacher, I began to see that this praise was empty—in fact, this praise could be perilous. 

Praise that doesn’t add specificity is empty.  This kind of praise lets the recipient know nothing about what is positive in what was done or what needs to occur again to grow skills.  There is an old quote that goes, “You can give the child a fish or you can teach them to fish.”  Praising children with phrases such as “Beautiful job!” gives the child the fish and often leaves the child wondering what they did to get the fish.   In Reading Recovery I experienced how to teach the child to fish through praise with specificity.
 “I like how when you got stuck you went back and reread and got your mouth ready for that first letter ‘h’.  Do you see how ‘house’ fell out of your mouth when you did that.” 

“Good readers use the picture to help them when they read the story.  I like the way you looked at the picture to help you when reading the words.”

“What was the tricky spot on that page?  How did you figure that word out?  Good for you, you did it all by yourself!  Good readers look at parts in a word to help them figure out tricky words.”

Praise filled with the power of strategy.  Praise can be a powerful tool when linked to specificity of what the child does to problem solve.  This learning trickled into my personal life as well.  As I raised two children, I used the same premises as I taught my children how to negotiate social situations and school matters, family squabbles and self-realizations.  Using the language of praise linked to specificity gives the recipient power.  It allows the receiver to understand what was done well and bank it in their memory to use again in future situations if so needed.

As a teacher of a graduate class on coaching, I have been revisiting the concept of praise with specificity.  My graduate students are practicing the art of listening and coaching.  In a safe setting, each student has opportunities to listen and to coach.  After the coaching or listening session they are given feedback.  The feedback process goes like this:  “Student’s name, what I appreciate about your listening (coaching) is that you ____________________.  I also appreciate that you __________________.  Eventually, as trust grows with the students the following phrase is also offered:   “What I feel got in the way of your listening (coaching) in this situation is ____________________. “   This phrase can be as powerful, when given in a safe environment, because it allows the student to see what is missing.  Each person receives both kinds of feedback from four fellow students.  After receiving the feedback, the student thanks the feedback givers and lets the information percolate.  They may, if chosen, write about the feedback process in a weekly reflection.  This process is built to allow future teachers and coaches to understand more what they are doing and not doing as they listen and coach.  It gives specificity.  Which is a powerful thing.

Praise expressed in feedback is a very powerful thing.   





19 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. An excellent post Deborah, on a topic that needs to be addressed. I am currently conducting two courses with coaches and the issue of praise has already arisen. Your post adds much to better understanding what constitutes meaningful feedback. In particular, I appreciated your words,'Using the language of praise linked to specificity gives the recipient power.'
    Congratulations on a powerful piece of writing.

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    1. Thanks, Alan. I would be interested in the work you are dong with your coaches around the topic of feedback and specificity.

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  3. This is so well said. I would like to show it to my teachers. You might be interested in Alfie Kohn's work on praise. Punished by Rewards is one of his books. Also, Peter Johnston's Choice Words is worth reading. Such smart work about specific feedback.

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    1. I love both of these books. Thanks for the reminder here of their importance around feedback. I am glad you want to show this to your teachers.

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  4. Good, specific words for us, too, Deborah. I loved a psychologist of a long while ago who used words like "respond to the process, not the doer", which is similar in intent. It works well for all parts of of life, including the teacherly ones! Thanks!

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    1. Wise words to live by, Linda. Thank you!

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  5. Good reminder how words can sometimes be just words or a powerful tool thanks...

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  6. Reading Recovery training does change the way one gives feedback. Specificity is key to ensuring the behaviors will continue.

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  7. This is a great post about a topic that is very important. I definitely see that the power of feedback comes from specificity. I also just recently finished reading Mindset and believe that the power in feedback comes from really praising that work that the child does to be successful.

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    1. You might want to watch the video that talks about the power of mindset thinking. It is a Ted Talk. Here is the link.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

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  8. This is right-on, Deb! I'll be blogging about this over at TWT in a few weeks' time.

    I'm always mindful about not saying to my daughter "good girl." I like to praise her specifically. It gets challenging when other people are in the mix taking care of her, but the least I can do is be consistent with targeted praise.

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    1. This is a topic that is very important. I am glad you will be blogging about it at TWT. Have you watched the Mideset video that talks about this more? I gave the link to another person who commented above. Here is is for you too.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

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  9. Great post...This is a pet peeve about the way we go about parenting these days, too. You are right I that we need to be mindful and specific in our praise. Choice Words was such a powerful book to read on the topic!

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  10. This is such an awesome post and I find that we don't talk as much about it as we should. I will definitely be sharing it with my grad students. I think it would be such a great idea to do some daily reflection around this...and I'm talking specifically about me. xo

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  11. Glad you found this writing provocative, Nanc. Not only for your grad students, but also for yourself. I find that I need to step back and think about the power of my language around praise. I want to complement and it comes naturally. But complements not tied to specific actions are empty. I speak to myself also.

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  12. This is very helpful. Have you read the book "Punished by Rewards?" I teach an art class, and I don't praise. I ask questions.
    http://www.amazon.com/Punished-Rewards-Trouble-Incentive-Praise/dp/0618001816

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  13. Your post has an amazing amount of powerful information for educators. I can't wait to share the information.

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  14. I like the idea of using sentence frames to guide feedback. Great topic, Deb. Thanks for sharing this!

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