I raised four children and taught countless others doling out praise liberally in daily parenting and teaching exchanges–thinking that this would encourage the child to learn. In the last few years however, I began to read a lot about the role of praise in raising and teaching children. A recent article in our local Pembroke Observer newspaper, “To praise or not to praise?” (Richard, 2015), brought the issue to my attention once again. The author references research work being done at Ohio State University where psychologists and researchers urge parents to be careful about how they dole out praise to their children if they want to avoid creating narcissistic “praise junkies”. They have determined that well-intentioned parents intuitively try to encourage their children by praising them, not realizing that they are excluding values such as “empathy, consideration for others, and teamwork”.
Determined to get things right, I have been attempting to ‘grandparent’ without praise for a few months now. Now that’s tough, because my four grandchildren really are the most beautiful, smartest, treasured babies in the whole wide world! Oops, sorry. Slipped again. That’s exactly the kind of praise I’m trying to get away from. It’s important to focus on the ‘work’ and ‘process’ part of a task. So I find myself saying things like, “You were so patient and worked really hard to feed your little sister”. Or, “I love the way you and your younger sister worked together to build that puzzle.”
While the article addresses parents, I would like to consider the implications for teachers and make some suggestions as to how this approach to praise can work in the classroom with good effect.
First to consider is the typical way a teacher asks questions in class. Teacher poses a question; hands are raised; and the teacher calls on someone to answer the question. If the student answers correctly the teacher says, “Right”, or “Good Job”. Think about this dynamic carefully to see what hidden messages are being reinforced here. When a student raises her hand, she is really saying, “Pick me!” When the teacher praises the response, she is really saying, “you are smarter than the others”. A competitive environment is created. Sure, a little bit of competition is good but we also need to intentionally teach empathy and teamwork. My observations from numerous classrooms is that there is a serious imbalance between the two entities: competition vs empathy/teamwork. One way to address this imbalance is to include planned cooperative learning (CL) structures in your teaching practice. An effective CL structure will include positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and simultaneous interactions (PIES) (Kagan, 2009). I have referred to CL and PIES in earlier posts so will focus now on only the positive interdependence part. When we teach by asking questions and expecting students to raise their hand if they have the correct answer, we are emphasizing NEGATIVE interdependence. That is, one child’s success is dependent on another child’s failure. Where is the empathy in that? The challenge is to design activities differently so that we create opportunities for POSITIVE interdependence. There are countless ways to do this. Some examples: Think-Pair-Share/Pairs Together; Inside-Outside Circle; Numbered Heads Together; Quiz Quiz Trade; Round Robin; etc…
Where to begin?
1. Reflect on your practice and how you might change things up to include POSITIVE Interdependence.
2. Find a CL structure to use instead of the traditional Pose-Response-Praise method described above. (A simple google search of cooperative learning strategies will give you many options; or try one of the ones I mentioned).
3. Try it! Modify and improve it, and try it again!
4. Then try a different CL structure.
Soon you will be convinced that CL can enhance the learning and the learning environment for every student in your class.
Do that, and I will PRAISE you for your EFFORTS!
Richard, J. (2015, March 21). To praise or not to praise? The Pembroke Observer, p. B3.