Going through the praise withdrawal

Is giving lots of praise counter-productive?

It seems as though recent research is suggesting so. Too much praise apparently can send the message that you are surprised the kids can solve the problems you set them and actually leads to them becoming demotivated.
The idea is simple: give strong praise less frequently as it will have more effect. Praise, like any verbal or physical action, gets less effective the more frequently that you use it.

How do you give less praise yet still convey enthusiasm for the subject? Apparently the answer lies in distinguishing between praise and feedback; understanding the difference between “you’re right” and “that’s truly awesome, well done!”. It is important that when you cut back on praise that you don’t cut back on feedback.

Rebecca Zook has written a blog post (I wanted to say an awesome and thought-provoking blog post but had to restrain myself) called Toning down the praise which explains where this idea has come from and her reflections on how moderating her use of praise is going. She points out how giving lots of praise to right answers can actually discourage the kids from taking risks and sends out the message that wrong answers are of no use which is of course totally the wrong message to be broadcasting!

If we want to encourage an environment of creativity, enquiry and learning shouldn’t we be giving praise to thoughtful, logical, albeit wrong answers as much as (if not more than) correct answers based on recall rather than understanding?

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3 Responses

  1. Rebecca Zook says:

    Hey, thanks so much for the mention! I just stumbled across your blog today and am really looking forward to reading more. I think one of the big guidelines coming out of the new research is to praise the process — as you address at the end of this post.

    For example, I am working with a 5th grader right now on fractions. He came to me with a practice problem he had gotten wrong, but instead of telling him, it’s wrong and this is why, I said, why don’t you test out your ideas with your fraction manipulatives and see if it’s true or not? As we worked through the problem it became clear to him that his original answer was incorrect — but more importantly, I wanted to teach him that he doesn’t have to wait for me to explain something. He can try things out on his own and figure things out independently, even if that means going off-trail sometimes.

  1. 30/06/2010

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