Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thinking about Praise

This is an exploratory entry - I am thinking about this problem and haven't yet reached a complete answer or answers.  



I have been thinking about this in terms of substitute teaching.  What things can I say to kids that are markers to success, but are not over praising?

One day when I was subbing, I gave out an award at the end of the day for "Best Wrong Answer".   In giving this "reward", which was just a sticky note with a sticker and the name of the award, I explained to the class why the wrong answer was excellent - it showed that the student was thinking about the problem and connecting it to things he already knew.  It was wrong, because he left out one key thing, but it showed courage to be wrong, as well as good, though incomplete, thinking.  Was this an example of good praise?  I think so.

I sometimes also give out an award for "Best Weird Question".  It has a similar premise - thinking about the subject matter and connecting it to things that are not necessarily explicit.  And, again, having the courage to ask the question, when it might seem strange.

Kids seem to like these awards.  I had a class for two days and gave out the Best Wrong Answer award the first day.  The students really looked forward to the end of the next day, as the Best Wrong Answer award had piqued their interest.  

How else can I not overpraise students?  What should I say when students turn in papers?  I tend to say, "Good job."  But is that too much?  In many cases, I don't know if what they did is a good job; I only know that it is a finished job.

I am mindful of Dweck's work on mindsets - fixed versus growth.  Praise the effort and not the inherent ability, but being effusive with "excellent effort"s and "good job"s may also lead students to value the reward, rather than the process.

The other day, I taught a very difficult math lesson.  The students were supposed to use calculators to compute the answer to questions like -25 + (-16) and -4 - (-5).  The problem is that there was no classroom set of calculators.  Some of the students had their own calculators and the teacher had a supply of two different kinds of calculators.  One style of the teacher's calculators had a "change sign" key; the other did not.  There were at least 5 different kinds of calculators in the room.  How can you tell if the students (31 of them) are getting it?  You give them the answers and see if they can explain how to get them with their calculator.  It was very difficult.  But the students did actually work at it.  And I told them so.  "This is[was] not an easy lesson.  These calculators work differently.  So what you need to do is to see if you can figure out how YOUR calculator works.  I appreciate how hard you worked on these two pages."  In fact, I still can't get my own calculator to computer -25 + (-16) correctly, unless I KNOW that adding a negative is the same as subtracting.

I am still thinking about teacher praise.  How much is enough for encouragement?  How much is too much?

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