Saturday, 28 January 2012

Praise just isn't good enough!

As G&T co-ordinator at my school, I've really become aware of the negative impacts of praise and effort grades. Talking to students, sat in front of me with a report displaying a row of gleaming 'Excellent's for effort, I found myself asking them if they felt the same. Most of them simply replied that they did the work, met deadlines, but didn't really consider their effort to be anything out of the ordinary.

So what effect does this have? If we are teaching students that cruise along at GCSE getting As and Bs that their effort is 'Excellent', or even 'Good' then what happens when it gets hard? It's something we really struggle with when students have to suddenly become independent at AS/ A2 and actually put a bit of effort in to get a good grade. Let's face it GCSEs are easy for some people.

If you just say, 'Well done!' to a kid, do they really know what they have done well, or do we leave them to work that out for themselves? Certainly that is the problem with simply rewarding attainment without identifying specifically what worked (and what didn't). It also is a little ridiculous to reward effort - how can you judge someone else's effort accurately? Obviously if they haven't done the work then that's a bit of a giveaway, but 3 paragraphs could be the end result of drafting, crafting, changing and improving, or 10 mins on the bus with a borrowed biro and a hangover!

I reminded myself of something that really works this week when I had to deliver a training session to new staff: 5 star praise. Not my idea, but something I've stolen from a management training book I found on my Dad's bookshelf a few years back: The Mind Gym*.

The five stars are:

  • Context
  • Explain what specifically went well
  • Describe the impact it had
  • Reinforce their identity
  • Congratulate

(Should have a snappy mnemonic to remember it by in the tradition of all good teachers; 'Cedric' doesn't quite do it for me!)

Most praise in my experience seems to stop short at 'congratulate'. If you want the behaviour repeated, however, don't leave them to work out for themselves what that behaviour is.

Academic example:
In your essay last lesson, I really liked the way you remembered to use connectives at the start of paragraphs. This meant your level went from a 4 to a 5. I'm really impressed that you focused on your target as it shows me you're really trying hard. Well done.

Behaviour example:
I really like the way you came into the room calmly, got your books out and sat ready to learn. It means we can start learning straightway and you make me happy! That's why you're my favourite class. Well done!

Give it a go; it really does work. It might seem a bit awkward at first, particularly if it is out of character, but maybe try admitting that too!

One final thought, just remember, colleagues need praise too. Why not try it on them?

*The Mind Gym Time Warner Books 2005 ISBN 0-316-72992-2

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