So how do we intervene? How do we help students who have low self-esteem, or who may be at risk for losing confidence? Do we praise them for everything they do? Will they see right through this? Let's explore the cautions of excessive praise, as well as the concerns for insufficient praise-- so we can find the happy medium.
What happens when an adult excessively praises?
Do students feel motivation to surpass expectations?
Do they grow up expecting that they won't always receive praise?
Do they feel that the praise is sincere?
Probably not. When learners feel their work is perfect, they will be less likely to take risks.
What happens when an adult never praises?
Do students feel good enough?
Do they feel like they'll ever meet their teacher's expectations?
Do they have a desire to put forth their best effort?
Probably not. When learners feel that a goal is unattainable, they will be less likely to take risks.
So where is the happy medium? Praise a little, but not too much? If it were that simple, every child would have high self esteem. Praise is a tricky thing that can be so powerful when used effectively. Eric Jensen listed the following awesome tips for giving the right kind of praise:
- Praise should be contingent with performance.
- Encourage students to give their best effort.
- Provide specific, positive praise.
- Provide gentle, honest feedback
- Celebrate students' personal victories
- Use words that encourage continued growth, such as, "Keep it up,” “You're on the right track," “You're off to a great start!” etc.
We also need to implement some things that will help students to gain self-esteem without our praise. When we teach students to write, we tell them, "Show. Don't tell." We want them to paint a picture of rich detail for the reader, which will lead the reader to visualize and draw conclusions based upon the rich writing. Confidence building is a lot like that. Show the students that they are capable. Don't just tell them. Let them happen upon this realization themselves. It's so much more powerful that way.
Here are some ideas that can help show the students that they have worth
- Thank them for their help, and teach pride. "Johnny, you saved me so much time when you sharpened my pencils. Thank you so much!" "Jenny, you sat quietly and did your work, even when things got a little noisy in here. That really makes my job so much easier. Thank you." It's so much more personal than "Good job!" Pride is another great way to make students feel worthy, successful, and even-- cheesy as it sounds-- special. "I'm proud of you," or, "You should be proud of yourself!" are such powerful phrases. I have a Proud Wall in my classroom, where students and adults can take a slip of paper and write, "I'm proud of [name], because..." and hang it on the wall. Most of the time, it's much more powerful coming from a student than from me.
- Let students evaluate themselves. After a student accomplishes something great, try, "Wow! How do you feel right now?"
- Enlist the help of classmates. Seat the student next to someone encouraging. Establish a new procedure that when students reach the top of your behavior chart, for example, that the whole class will cheer. Tell a student about something great someone else did. Provide positive reinforcement for encouraging behaviors. When you notice a student complimenting someone, positively reinforce it. Complimenting others typically makes both parties involved feel great.
- Provide opportunities for the student to carry out responsibilities that are easy to accomplish. This will help him gain a realistic view of strengths and weaknesses. Explicitly teach that everybody has weaknesses, and teach how to accept and work around them. This will also help to find the student's talents.
- Show the student that you care. Look up from your work when he enters the room. Make time for him when he approaches your desk, even if you're busy. Ask him about something he told you yesterday. Notice the cool shirt he's wearing.
- Display student accomplishments. Ask the child if you could use his work item as an example for next year's class. Let students hang their work.
- Volunteer. Get students involved in activities that help others. It's an excellent confidence booster and can also serve as an eye opener for students who could benefit from learning to be grateful for what they have.
- Be a positive role model. Don't put yourself down. Laugh off your mistakes. Accept your weaknesses and describe how you'll work through them. Don't allow students to put themselves down. Instead, teach them to express their strengths and plan how they will realistically work around their needs. Don't allow anyone to set limits on themselves or others.
- Let them know they won't always win. They won't always be the best. We live in a culture where everyone wins, gets a trophy, etc. Is this preparing our youth for the realities of life? Set up situations where they won't win, but teach that this is natural, normal, and okay. Explicitly teach how to deal with these feelings-- and that with exposure, the students will gain the strength to accept this. Meanwhile, find some specific strengths and talents, and teach students to work hard to strive to be the best they can be.
- Step back, and let the student solve his own problem. Tell him, "This is a problem that can be fixed. I know you can fix it," or ask, "How do you think you could solve this problem?" Stand back, and let him try. Chances are, he'll get it. I recently read an awesome article on standing back and letting the child try things alone. Check it out here: "Please don't help my kids" by Kate Bassford
What are some ideas you have about building student confidence? What are your thoughts on praise? Please share in the comments below!
A Peach for the Teach