Friday, 22 July 2016

Lip Service a Disservice

One of the discussion forum posts on Assignment 2 looked at Praise and Feedback -- are these inextricably linked? Is one necessary for the other to exist? The concept of praise and feedback was tied to emotional investment in another person and the way people are more likely to be kind or give back to us if we have invested some kind of kindness in them. Called the emotional bank account, it is most clearly demonstrated when one parent asks a child to do something and the child does not; another parent asks and the child responds with compliance. The parent who was granted compliance has clearly made more "deposits" into the emotional bank account by way of involvement, interest, time spent, or emotional connection.

But does praise really fall into the well of a deposit into the emotional bank account? Does "You're the best, Johnny!" really count as an emotional investment? I don't think it does. In fact, I think it does the opposite. In minor sports where I have been a volunteer coach for six years, I find kids who struggle and have their parents on the sidelines saying they are the greatest never, ever improve. They know they are not the best because their performance is a clear indicator.

However, kids who struggle and are taken aside to learn or relearn basic skills with clear (even if not always positive) feedback become so heavily invested in the process they become champions of positivity for the team. They don't even realize the feedback was critical -- in their minds they have something concrete to connect with, a chunk of information that they can call their own, access at will, and use to improve their game.

Besides feeling a bit disingenuous, praise is often misused in children's classrooms to defeat motivation and interrupt the development of concentration. It is so inherently difficult to watch a preschooler complete a task without chiming in, "Wow!" or "Great job!" or "You are so good at that!" Really, we should watch quietly and say nothing, allowing the task's completion to be the reward. Maria Montessori said, "When dealing with children, there is a greater need for observing than of probing," and she extolled the virtues of concentration as being more than a study skill; rather, she believed it was an essential, deep process that shapes a person's lifelong character: "The first essential for the child's development is concentration," she said. "The child who concentrates is immensely happy."

There is also strong evidence that praise lessens effort, as evidenced by studies into whether success results from raw talent or from the desire to learn, coachability, and intrinsic motivation. This article on the importance of the correct type of feedback explores the pros and cons of praise versus feedback and gives some great examples of ways to foster learning in people of all ages.

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