The case against praise

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While studying for my Masters in Elementary Education, I researched educator Alfie Kohn.  His work emphasizes to parents and educators that praise can be detrimental.  All of those “good jobs” don’t do a child a lick of good.  I scoffed at this notion, children need to be loved and taught that they are wonderful; well, of course, but he brings in practical reasons as to why praise should be so much more.

Here are some notes I wrote in my substitute lesson plans during my time as a Kindergarten teacher, based on Kohn’s article “Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job”:

  •  Focus praise of students to encourage and support their intellectual work and their self-confidence. I want the students to have motivation to learn and not simply depend on your response to their work.
  •  For example, during Language Arts, Centers, or Writer’s Workshop, students will want to show you their work, instead of just saying, “nice job,” focus praise to specific reasons why you think his/her work/writing is improved or can be improved.
  •  Instead of “good,” say “I like how you….” or “You remembered….”
  •  While circulating, do not say anything at all. Sometimes a walk around the room to check on the students’ work suffices for students to know you care, but you value their responses and their ideas.  Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
  •  While circulating, ask questions about the students’ work, such as, “How did you know?” and “Where did you get that idea?” to support the students’ autonomy and asking what he/she thinks of their work, rather than telling him/her what you think.

I just came upon this chart from Teach Preschool’s Facebook group which sums all of this up very nicely:

The New York Times published an article on this topic entitled “The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids”.

Living Montessori Now, also, posted the “A Montessori Approach to Praise” which lists reasons why children need us to be constructive in both our words and our actions.


What do you think? What are your experiences and/or thinking?  Are they aligned with this view of praise?

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One Comment

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this, Amy! It’s such an important topic, and the current ideas are different from what most of us were raised with. I really appreciate your linking to my post. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page in February, and I think it definitely stimulated some positive thought. :)

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