Not Another Story About the Evils of…Praise?

Posted on 04 Sep 2009 in Intervention, School Behavior, Student Behavior | Comments Off on Not Another Story About the Evils of…Praise?

The Wrong Message!

Every so often, it seems that the media re-sends the message that praising kids is harmful. The ABC News program Nightline just featured this story last night (9/3/09) ‘Nurture Shock: Why Praising Your Kids Can Hurt Them | ABC News

Parent and writer Po Bronson, who just published a new book on this topic, states that

A decade of groundbreaking research suggests that constant praise can lead kids to lose self-confidence, not gain it, and make them actually perform worse, not better.

Give me a break!

from Flickr

from Flickr

Bronson and others interviewed talked about inflating students self-esteem by telling them they were ‘smart’ and thereby eroding their work ethic. This is not praise. This is lying to kids and doesn’t do anything to increase the behavior you want to encourage.

By design, reinforcement (through verbal praise in this case) causes the preceding behavior to increase. If you praise students for a poor performance or mediocre job then you are reinforcing that behavior and can expect more of it. I don’t think we want to encourage more mediocre performances.

Most educational researchers who study praise and reinforcement will tell you that the vast majority of experimental research shows that specific praise delivered immediately after a target behavior will increase that behavior in the future. There are a lot of behavior’s we want to increase at school:

  • reading, writing, math
  • on-task behavior, using an inside voice, sharing with peers
  • attempting difficult work, persisting on problem solving, and learning in general

Research Says…

The vast majority of research also shows that we (teachers and parents) do a pathetic job of praising and reinforcing the behaviors we want kids to demonstrate and spend far too much time criticizing and responding negatively to disruptive or off-task behavior. Absolute numbers vary, but many agree that we should use a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of positive to negative statements.

The Right Message

Instead of reading a book and showing a feature about praising too much, our society needs books that teach us how to praise more! And a book about how we may inadvertently use the principles of reinforcement to our disadvantage.

What do you think about praising children?

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