Change bad praise by effective praise

The previous article was about how we can deliver praise in an effective way. When I first started teaching, a million years ago, there are things I said or actions I took that I regretted. Blame it on my youth, as they say. We all make mistakes and it is important to acknowledge when we go wrong, especially when it comes to saying or doing things that may affect students in their learning. My point today here is to give you a –non- exhaustive list- of do’s and don’ts expressions to better praise your students and lead them in the right direction. The next items are part of a long list of things I heard during my career and even if they reflect all the anger, frustration and exhaustion of some of us, it is important to ban them from our language to help our students grow as well-rounded individuals.

1. Instead of “ I’m busy right now”
Try: “Ok, give a minute, I can’t help you right now as I am busy, but when I am done, I’ll come and see you”. I am still surprised to get some University students coming to see me sometimes for things I may consider futile at times when I am obviously unable to help them with their question. I was busy in a training session in the meeting room a couple of weeks ago when I got told that a student of mine had made it clear that he urgently needed to see me. The reason was that he wanted to give me his essay but he had questions about the marking criteria. Well, that is just a little something that can be perceived as annoying and to which we may not respond well. What happens when the learner is a primary school student or a secondary school one? They do not perceive the matter of urgency the same way we do, so if we dismiss them abruptly without any justified reason to their eyes we may make some enemies without even meaning it.

2. Instead of “ You are not good at languages”
Try: “Well, you may find some things difficult in languages, but I can tell you that there are things you will find easy to learn, fun and also interesting, don’t give up”. When we tell someone that they are not good at doing something in most cases they integrate this belief and become actually bad at doing it. I remember hearing my math teacher saying that -I quote-
“ She is not stupid, she has potential but math that is not for her.” Guess what? I gave up on math and the day I truly needed math and all the bloody vectors to get my Aeronautics certificate I couldn’t quite cope because I had believed all my life that I would never be able to cope with math. Imagine the same scenario with a young boy/girl. You may ruin some of his chances simply because your sayings were pretty bad.

3. Instead of “ You could do so much with more effort”
Try: “ You have the potential to succeed, now what can I do to help you unlock this potential fully?” When you say that a student has potential but don’t use it fully that is basically quite offensive. If you know as a learner that you do put the effort into your work but that for any reason the results are not what you are expecting, how do feel? And when your teacher pinpoint the fact that you didn’t do all you could do that feels just like a slap in the face.

4. Instead of “ Your brother/sister was good at languages, why can’t you?”
Golden rule in teaching: never compare brothers and sisters in terms of results or attitude. Even acknowledging that you remember having taught a student’s sibling, avoid any comparison whether positive or negative. Treat everyone as an individual. Period.

5. Instead of “I was expecting something better from you.”
Try: “Well, there are a couple of good things like the use of linking words in your writing, now what do you think could be improved to make it a better piece of writing?” Be specific when you give feedback. Even you are disappointed in the work of a student try to think about ways to improve the student’s work. Learning is a process. Everything can be improved.

These were just some of the examples of damaging expressions that can be detrimental to the learning and growth of students. If we all try collectively to ban those sayings, a lot would be done to improve education and learning.

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