To praise or not to praise

What’s the best way to support the overall learning and growth of children — via a healthy doze of generalized praise, or with a strict diet of precise, targeted feedback that helps children see their own work more objectively?

That’s the question posed in a recent article in the Washington Post, and based on the reaction it’s receiving — hundreds of emotionally-charged comments on either side of the debate — it’s clear that the issue of when, and how, to deliver feedback to children is a serious hot-button issue for parents and educators.

The question of feedback is vital, however, in ways that go beyond individual classrooms and students; indeed, some of the Obama administration’s primary proposals for K-12 education reform are based on the assumption that extrinsic motivators are a particularly valuable form of feedback — performance pay for teachers, for example.

Is this a viable strategy to pursue? What exactly is the debate between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation when it comes to individual performance, and how should those arguments be shaping the way we think about everything from drafting federal policies to finding the best school for our children?

To unpack that a bit, here are two previous pieces of writing about the subject — the first describes a live debate between educators on the subject; and the second summarizes the recent research and offers some suggested next steps. See what you think — and please share your thoughts and reactions publicly.

Categories: Assessment, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Great post! I’d also like to add that parents are all too quick to praise their school districts just because the districts have a great reputation and can boast high test scores. I left the Chicago Public Schools, in which my son had a great experience, for a suburban district that’s so renowned people move to my town just for the schools. But as the district makes backward choices like bringing in Latin classes instead of Mandarin ones, the parents seem to sit back and think the district knows best. Plus, Latin can help kids with the SAT, they say. In the end, we can praise our kids all we want–or not–but when we sit back and don’t question shortsighted and even ignorant choices that the board of ed makes, our kids will lose out no matter what.

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