“Junk Food” Praise

“Junk Food” Praise

     Giving children positive attention is extremely important and there are some tricks to making your comments more effective.  As teachers, we are busy and we have many children to pay attention to so it’s easy to slip into praising children with simple phrases like “good job,” “well done” or “I like your picture”. The problem with these phrases is that they don’t help the children to understand exactly what they’ve done well. They are too general to be very useful. They can also make children more dependent on our praise, rather than giving them ways to evaluate themselves. Yes, kids still love to hear “good job” but this is the equivalent of junk food. It might taste good for the moment, but it doesn’t help the child to grow or develop their autonomy. Trying giving more healthy feedback!
      So what should we say instead? Focus on describing what you are seeing, rather than just giving your judgment. You can also add an open-ended question to promote children’s reflection and language development. For example, instead of asking “What color is your painting?” which can easily be answered in one word, try asking, “Can you tell me about the colors you used?” This helps children think through what they did, reflect on it, and then put it into words – a better thinking exercise. Finally, be sure to focus on effort, rather than being smart. We want children to see the link between working hard at something and being successful.

Some starters for giving positive feedback:

  • “You have worked really hard to _____________.”
  • “You’ve been so busy today. Tell me how you _______________.”
  • “I noticed you were working cooperatively with _____________.
  • “You got right to work today. That helped you get more done.”
  • “You participated in the story today. Is that a special story for you?”
  • “You got your work done today all by yourself. You must have been focusing very well.”
  • “The beginning of your story helps me to see what is happening.”
  • “I noticed you were working so well with _______ today.”
  • “I noticed that you helped ______ today. That was very kind and I bet she was happy you did that.”
  • “You’ve written five sentences in your journal today. Last month you were only writing one sentence.”

     I know from experience that switching to this way of giving feedback is very hard. It may feel like you’re not being kind enough, or not doing your job right unless you give evaluation words like “well done.” Once you get used to this, however, you’ll see how much more satisfying it is to you and the children. Of course, it takes plenty of practice, and compassion for ourselves when we slip back into “good job” comments. But if you can master this, you’ll be very glad you did and the children will learn much more from your interactions!

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