Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Role of Praise in the Education System

Am I Training My Dog To Sit?

I had a wonderful companion for 13 years.  A chocolate lab who was the most loyal and undemanding friend in my life.  Of course, I trained him to be a good boy, to listen when I had a command, and to socialize properly.  It was fun training him, as it built a connection between that little fur ball of a puppy and me.

While training him, I chose not to use treats to reward him.  Oh sure, he got a nice treat at the end of most training sessions, but not during the session (well, sometimes he did, but rarely).  Mostly, he and I trained by me giving him love and attention.  He heard my happy/good-job voice and learned what it meant.  He also heard my harsh "No!" and learned what that meant.

Praise in Education

There has been a lot of talk the past 20 years about how to motivate learning, and one popular idea was to praise the student into learning.  It's been a staple of the educational system for a while to remove as much negativity as possible from the classroom and make the classroom a harmonious haven of positive thoughts.  Essentially, the educational paradigm is 100% happy/good-job voice.  I'm not so sure that works...OK, I don't think it works.  And, there appears to be some research that backs up my's the link (Read Me!!)  To sum it up, we teachers became a nation of milk-bone givers who didn't learn to say "No!", and now the dog is acting up.

Giving a student positive feedback should definitely be done.  It makes no sense to ignore the impact that true positive feedback will have on that student.  They learn that their efforts are paying off, that they are getting it, they build up proper connections of topics in their brain and gain a confidence in their ability to get future, new ideas.  We as instructors need to freely hand these out.

However, giving negative feedback is just as instructive.  Obtaining the wrong answer and learning it's wrong isn't a bad thing, especially during the learning process.  In fact, to reach the point of true understanding often requires a slap-in-the-face to break that perception and create the new, more correct perception.  We hear such ideas in many of the great one liners..."you can't make a cake without breaking some eggs" or "you won't really change until you hit rock bottom" or "it's not a party until something is broken"...wait, that last one doesn't fit.  My favorite line about education and negative feedback is, "Making a mistake is part of the path that ends in learning."  If this sounds familiar, it's because it stems from this past post...Old Post!!

In Summary

We need to get our students to embrace their mistakes while they don't count (before the exam).  To learn that their mistakes today are clues to what they don't know from the past and haven't connected together now.  That part of learning is understanding what is wrong as much as just knowing what is correct.  And finally, if our students don't confront what they think they know (by asking questions, being questioned, or trying to connect differing concepts), they will continue on with the incorrect idea guiding their future learning of connected topics.

"What we learn wrong today affects our future learning too much.  Don't put off testing what you learn by study, practice and reflection."---a quote by me, Dr. Z!

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