The Power of Praise

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Learning how to praise proves to be more difficult than we thought. “As teachers, we find it all too easy to spend our time looking for what is wrong, pointing out errors, and focusing on mistakes,” quipped Todd Whitaker (What Great Teachers Do Differently, p46)

Most of us find it all too awkward to praise others, especially towards our loved ones, close friends, colleagues and relatives. This is particularly true in Asian culture. I am not sure why this is so, but thinking back, I don’t remember seeing my parents praise each other or their friends frequently, nor did I see it happening for the people around me when I was growing up.

There is no doubt that praising someone is an effective source of motivation and positive energy. In fact, it makes both the giving and receiving parties happy. But we are just not doing it enough, and not doing it well.

Ben Bissell (1992) has described five things that help praise work – elements that are important if attempts at praise are to have their most positive effect. Ben concluded that for praise to be effective, it must be authentic, specific, immediate, clean and private.

Some elaboration on Ben’s ideas:

Authentic – No one ever feels that they are praised too much for something genuine. So catch your child doing things right, and grab the opportunity to give authentic praise.

Specific – The behavior we acknowledge often becomes the behavior that will be continued. Identify the specific improvement or progress made by your child and acknowledge them through praise.

Immediate – Recognizing positive efforts and contributions in a timely manner. And the more often we do this, the more praise becomes a habit.

Clean – Clean means a couple of different things. Praise is not clean if you are issuing it to get someone to do something in the future. For praise to be clean, it cannot include the word “but”.

Private – Recognizing someone publicly may seem reinforcing, but statistics shown that many people would rather receive private recognition.

We need to praise on a regular basis for it to be effective. As a matter of fact, if we praise correctly it is impossible to praise too much. The above mentioned 5 elements are exactly the same principles being used to build KooBits Assessment Portal’s reward system. Students will receive authentic, specific, immediate, clean and private praise on every little achievements they made.


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