Praising Your Students

Be watchful for opportunities to praise behavior that promotes task completion. For example, suppose you are giving directions for a rather involved activity. First be certain that all have their attention glued on you. When you are done, ask your best students questions about the directions. After a few have responded correctly, praise the class for being so attentive. Of course, no doubt some of the others daydreamed through your instructions and don’t deserve the praise. But, you have demonstrated approval for a behavior modeled by those who responded. Perhaps the less attentive ones will be encouraged to listen more carefully next time. Calling on those whom you know will respond incorrectly only serves to embarrass them and will have a negative, long-term effect.

As the activity progresses, you might go from table to table praising one of neatness, another for staying on task, another for creative work and another for correct answers. The point is that you should try to tailor your praise to the needs of each student. Those who are easily distracted should be praised when on task. Less capable students will benefit from praise for correctly done work, even before they are finished. Don’t wait for task completion before offering praise. Also, don’t reserve praise for only high grades on the finished product. Once again, praise is appropriate for any behavior that contributes to successful completion.

In order for praise to be effective it must seem spontaneous and genuine. To that end, your comments should be specific and reveal your knowledge of what the student has actually done. There is little value in simply saying, “Good job.” Kids need to know specifically what they have done to deserve your compliments. After all, how can you encourage a specific behavior if you don’t tell the student what it was? It would be much more effective to say, “John, I was pleased to see you kept working even though Bill way trying to get your attention,” than, “You worked well today, John.” Also, by familiarizing yourself with the details of the student’s work, you can praise specific behaviors or performance so that it doesn’t sound like a mechanical response. Going from student to student alternating “Good job” with “Nice work” sounds like you’re being paid to do it.

Praise should also be given using past performance as the criterion. “Linda, I’m very pleased to see how much neater your homework papers are these days.” Reserving your praise for high letter grade papers denies it to your less able students despite the fact that they might have actually worked harder getting their C than the high achiever did getting his A. In other words, as much as you can, your praise should be based on effort. This way you’ll be encouraging all your student to work toward their best.

At this age, evaluation should be as frequent as possible. Some sort of graded paper ought to be required every two or three days. Also, to be a useful motivator, it should be graded and returned quickly, ideally the next day. This both encourages your students to keep up with the work and gives you a better feel for how they are doing.

While course grades undoubtedly motivate college or even high school students, they are an uncertain motivator for the young teenager. You have only to witness the disregard most have for their grade until the very end to know the truth of that statement. Nevertheless, their course grade will be of great interest to them and their parents at some point. To that end, it’s important for your kids to keep a running record of their grades in a format which they can understand. This ought be a sheet always in their possession listing the grade on each assignment and test, with an up-to-date total grade for the course. Be certain they keep it current by allowing class time for that purpose. You’ll likely have to walk them through each calculation. An added benefit of your efforts will be that they’ll be far less likely to question the fairness of your grading procedure.

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