In our discussions with drama educators at SDEA, we stumbled upon an interesting observation. Some teachers are warm encouragers – doling out praise is almost like an unconscious tick to them while others confess that they don’t praise at all and are brisk in their instructions. Both camps have no problem delivering engaging lessons or fostering a friendly, learning environment and so we ask, should praise have a place in the drama classroom?
Social psychologists believe that the type of praise received by children can become a negative force in a student’s life. Children who receive inflated praise or praise linked to their personal traits are less likely to take on more challenging tasks as they link failure to their own personal shortcomings. Meanwhile, children who were praised for the activity themselves or got no praise at all, hold on to their curiosity and intrinsic desire to learn even as adults.
However, experts aren’t quick to put a complete ban on praise in the classroom. They found that effective praise or encouragement fosters autonomy, positive self-esteem, a willingness to explore, and acceptance of self and others. So what is effective praise/encouragement?
- It offers specific feedback rather than general comments. Instead of saying, “Great job!”, teachers can comment on specific behaviours that they wish to acknowledge.
- It is teacher-initiated and private. Privacy increases the potential for an honest exchange of ideas and an opportunity for the students to talk about his or her work.
- It focuses on improvements and efforts rather than evaluation of a finished product
- It uses sincere direct comments delivered with a natural voice
While encouragement helps students develop an appreciation of their behaviours and achievements, praise was found to decrease student motivation and can appear manipulative to students when used as a tool for classroom management in these instances:
- When used to compare the student with others
- When used to encourage competition in class
- When used to reinforce teacher approved desired behaviours
So the next time you find yourself brimming with pride on the verge of a praise, ask yourself is it helpful to the situation and does it identify your student’s specific strengths enough?
Adapted from Praise in the Classroom by Randy Hitz and Amy Driscoll. Be sure to supplement your reading with The New Yorker’s OP-ed piece In Praise of Better Praise by Maria Konnikova and Can Adults Praise Children Too Much? by Ellen R. Delisio. You might also find Mojdeh Bayat’s Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise in Children useful in the discussion of praise in a special needs classroom.
If you are an early childhood or primary school educator, you must check out Essential Motivation in the Classroom by Ian Gilbert and Praise, Motivation and the Child by Gill Robbins carried by our partners at Routledge. SDEA members get a 25% discount so do make full use of your discount code!