Sunday, December 03, 2006

Praise for Effort -- While They Learn

As you work with your child reading with them and as they make their best efforts beginning reading, especially with the very young, we sometimes do a lot of "gushing" when a child correctly reads a word. There is a difference between praise and encouragement. Praise is an overall statement: good job, great job, good girl, good boy, wow that's the greatest thing you ever did, you are so smart, that's a beautiful picture, you always do the right thing.

Praise is not wrong, it's just overused at the expense of encouragement, which is more focused on a single effort. We want to use more encouragement so we can help children learn to value themselves and become more self-reliant.

Some children don't know how to judge what the've done unless an adult tells them. We want children to be able to judge their own accomplishments and capabilities; we don't want them always looking to someone else to tell them how they did. As they grow, we teach them the proper guidelines (educational, social, moral, ethical) so they can learn to critique themselves without always trying to please an adult.

In fact, we all probably know some grown-ups who continually seek someone else's approval. Sadly, they lack the ability to think for themselves and to decide what is good and what needs improvement. We will never stop praising children, but it will be better if we use fewer general statements of praise and more focused statements of encouragement.

Here are some examples that really work:
  • You did it! (This is the easiest and the most effective).
  • You worked hard on this, didn't you?
  • I can tell that you thought a lot about that.
  • That's the first time you were able to lift that!
  • I see that you used purple circles in your painting. (Or when they show you something they made, ask, "Do you like it?")
  • You shared because you like to help others.
  • You've been trying for a long time, and you did it.
  • You're being helpful; you gave him a tissue.
  • You found a way to do that!

...and when you show a child a word and (s)he reads it correctly, you can just simply say, Yes!

In the book How to Teach Your Baby to Read by Glenn & Janet Dorman, (also authors of How to Teach Your Baby Math) list 8 points to remember about the child: (Ch 7, pg 88)

1. Before age 5, a child can easily absorb tremendous amounts of info
(before age 4 it's easier and more effective, before 3 it's even easier and more effective, before 2 it's the easiest and most effective)
2. Before age 5, a child can accept info at a remarkable rate
3. The more they absorb before age 5, the more retained
4. before age 5, a child has tremendous amounts of energy
5. before 5, a child has a monumental desire to learn
6. before 5, a child can learn and wants to learn to read
7. all tiny children are linguistic geniuses
8. before 5, a child can learn an entire language (and as many as are presented to him)

There are two vital points involved in teaching your child: (pg 89)

1. your attitude and approach
2. the size and orderliness of the teaching materials

I highly recommend reading these books (use your library!) They will give you the means to explain to others about the child's ability to learn at such an early age! There is so much more information on their research on brain injured children and how it led to teaching 'well children' at earlier ages.

Appreciation to colleagues Beckey Thomson and Cheryl Macdonald for their contributions to this article.