Monday, March 2, 2009

In Praise of Praise

So imagine you are having some friends over for dinner. You have chosen an exciting new recipe, bought interesting ingredients, slaved all day in a hot kitchen, and even put a drizzle of something expensive onto the plate. You serve it up and your friends say, "That was good. you should have put in some thyme though." The "that was good" part of the comment sort of disappears beneath the rest of it. This is how a lot of children hear "nice work" when we say it. It essentially has no meaning.
When you read (or write or do anything else) with your child, be on the lookout for opportunities to give a nice, fat, juicy compliment. And make it specific. 
  • I love how you pointed to each word right when you were saying it, and when you ran out of words but were still reading, you went back to fix the mistake. That was so amazing for me to see. Did it feel good for you?
  • Wow! Last time we read this you didn't know this word, but this time you read it like a real pro!
  • You know, lately when I listen to you reading, it sounds so smooth. It used to sound. kind. of. choppy. but. now it sounds almost like talking. Have you been working on that?
You get the idea.
So why is it important to give praise like this in the first place? I mean, why not just keep saying "nice work"? Well, I don't want to bore you with the research, but you should know that there is research showing that response is a critical condition of learning. When children do something well, they need an authority on the subject to tell them so. Not only does this help them continue to do whatever it was they did well, but it also creates a feeling of success, which helps them take the risks necessary to do other things well.

So if you notice a few things not going so well, do not allow yourself to address any of them until you have crafted a lovely, specific, meaningful compliment. 

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