Friday, September 26, 2014

Being a Witness, Not a Judge - Teacher Lisa

A few weeks ago I was scrolling through Facebook posts and one caught my attention. It was an article from the website A Child Grows entitled, "Why I'm Going to Stop Saying 'Good Job' or at Least Try." It caught my attention because I hear myself using those words a lot. I clicked on the link to read the article. In it, the author referenced Alfie Kohn, who's critical analysis of educational practices like grades, rewards, and in this case praise, I always find compelling. In his article "Five Reasons to Stop Saying 'Good Job', Kohn suggests replacing phrases like, "Good job!" "That was awesome!" or "I like your picture," with something a little more intentional. I found the article helpful and thought others might, too.

Here are Kohn's suggestions for deepening the ways we interact with and support children:

1. Say Nothing  Our assumption that children need us to verbally approve of what they're doing may be more about us than it is about them. Most likely, the joy and satisfaction they get from what they are doing are all the "encouragement" they need. Our inclination to praise them may reflect our desire to participate more than it does their need to know what we think. Often times, the fact that we are interested in observing them is enough. In fact, Kohn suggests that when we take control of verbally validating the activity, we unconsciously quiet the child's inner voice, resulting in their growing need for outside validation rather than a deepening trust in their own ability. This may give them a temporary (and fleeting) boost, but it inhibits their ability to think critically, problem-solve, create and persevere - skills they will need to be successful in the long term.

2. Say What You Saw  This is the part about being a witness and not a judge. By making observations rather than evaluations, we have the potential to reinforce processes/character traits (working hard, sticking with it, thinking of others, taking responsibility) rather than evaluating end results (a drawing, sharing a toy, putting things away). The former is usually what we're trying to do. Yet our sincere efforts to encourage through comments like, "Well done!" "Great job!" or "I like the way you did that!" end up doing the latter and can be misinterpreted as evaluations by the children we are trying to support.

Instead of saying, "Nice tower," say, "You made a tower using 3 blocks..".

Instead of "I like your circles," say, "Some circles are alone and some are all in one spot..."

Instead of saying, "Good job!" notice that some dots have one line coming out of them and other dots have three...

Replace "I like your painting!" with "Hmmm, there is a large swirl of purple on your painting..."

Instead of saying, "Nice job rolling the can," say, "You rolled the can to your friend, ___________!"

3. Talk Less, Ask More  Hearing comments they perceive as evaluations may actually decrease a child's interest/investment in whatever s/he is doing. Over time, s/he may rely so heavily on hearing the praise that the activity simply becomes the vehicle for receiving it. Once the praise ends, so does the activity. Replace compliments with questions about what the child is doing.

"What are all of those different objects you chose for your collage?"

"Tell me about your project!"

"How is your baby today? What are the two of you doing?"

"What are you making? May I have a taste?"

"Tell me about the different colors you are using!"

"I wonder what kind of a print this gadget will make?"

All of us say the things we say to our children out of a sincere desire to support and encourage - and there's certainly a lot worse we could do than offer up a "Good job!" every now and again. But sometimes it's helpful to take a closer look at what we are doing and ask ourselves why we are doing it, and if it is moving us in the direction we want to go.

Kohn ends his article with these words:

"Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life -- or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she's doing in its own right - or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head?

It's not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mid our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn't so positive. The good news is that you don't have to evaluate in order to encourage."