Thursday, August 9, 2012

Good job?

An anthroplogist studying Waldorf schools looks for the secret to developing self-esteem.  Thank you for presenting one perspective and for making me think about this (Can you make me think?  Probably not.  How about provoke?  Or precipitate?  Or cause? Or encourage?  Language matters.  It conveys meaning and meta-meaning, the message and the message behind the message.)

I agree that "good job" is a poor form of praise.  Yes, praise, in general, inadvertently, unintentionally, and unavoidably traps the recipient in external motivation.  This is praise, the addictive drug.

"Thank you," according to EJ Sobo, expresses appreciation while avoiding the praise trap.  "Thank you."  Translation:  "I noticed you.  I noticed what you did.  I appreciate the help you gave.  I'm grateful to you." 

My favorite "thank you" story comes from Thich Nhat Hanh.  If someone says to you, "You have a beautiful smile," you'll be tempted to say, "thank you." 

That person is really saying "Your smile has made this moment better for me.  Thank you."  So your response should really be, "You're welcome."

The encounter reads like this:
"You have a beautiful smile."
"You're welcome."

Is there a useful form of praise?  I sometimes make a statment that begins, "I really like ..."  What follows is an honest statement of what I think, identified as my thought rather than as unversal truth ("That's good.")

What follows?  Specific feedback.  One of our roles as teachers is to make "points of interest" to help our students to improve their performance.  "Good job" is not helpful, and since it creates a hunger for external praise, is in fact, harmful.  What would be helpful? 

"I really like the colors in your painting.  You kept them pure and bright, and didn't mix them together into a muddy mess like some painters do."  This is useful information.  The painter knows this is my thinking, my response.  He also knows specifically what I admire, what qualities I like in a painting.

And finally, check out Carol Dweck's point of view:  Praise effort, not intelligence.  Check out her book Mindset, one of the most surprisng insights into the motivation of learning. Or if you prefer the You Tube version, here it is.

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