Specific praise

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Think of how you'd react to the following compliment: "You look nice".

Now compare it with this one: "Oh, you've done something different to your hair, it really suits the shape of your face, and I love that colour on you, it matches your eyes. And where did you get those great shoes?"

Compliment 2 feels a lot more genuine and sincere, because it's specific and detailed. They aren't just saying it to be polite (or if they are, they are very good at being nice!).

Compliment 2 also significantly increases the chances that you'll keep the hairstyle, and wear that colour and those shoes again.

Literacy-learners are no different from anyone else, they believe in and respond to specific praise more than vague praise.

So when you're telling your learner that their work is good, don't just say "good work". Tell them in how it's good.

Loads of ways to praise a learner's work

There's a great poster called something like "100 ways to praise a child", which used to be in a lot of kindergartens and schools.

It's a useful exercise to think about how one might devise a similar list of praise to give a learner who is working on reading, writing and spelling skills. Very specific praise really gets learners' attention, and gets them focussed on and trying to repeat whatever it was you praised.

I like to think about the following categories when giving praise to learners who are using my workbooks, and try to give some praise from each category.

Handwriting praise

  • You were holding the pencil really well, with three fingers.
  • You've got all these letters on the line, and all the hanging-down letters are hanging down, and all the tall letters are tall.
  • I can really tell the difference between your "a" and your "u" now.
  • That word is so neat, it looks like it's been typed.

Praise about sounds

  • I could hear all the sounds while you were writing the spellings, excellent.
  • You were really listening carefully and you heard every single sound in that word, even the tricky ones.
  • You are saying the difference between these two, "f" and "th", really clearly now, I can tell you've been thinking about them.
  • You didn't get "e" and "i" mixed up once on that whole worksheet.

Praise about spellings

  • You've got all the ending spellings right here, the ending "ck" and the ending "ll" and the "dge".
  • You've remembered where to use "c" and where to use "k".
  • You've used the right "ee" spellings in all these words.

Praise about self-monitoring and self-correction

  • You've gone back and checked every time, and when you've made a mistake, you've fixed it up.
  • Look at how carefully you did that, you were really focussing on what was hard last time, so you could get it right.

Praise about work ethic

  • You've gotten through eight worksheets this session, incredible, look at all that.
  • You've just picked up your pencil and gotten the work done, you champion.

Pointing out, rather than correcting, errors

Most of the time it's not necessary to say anything critical about a learner's error, I usually just point to them and say, "Can you check that one?" and they quickly fix it up. Which gives me yet another opportunity to praise them.