Positive Feedback: The Words We Use Matter

“Good job, kids! Well done, that’s beautiful! Way to go, that was great!”

These affirmations are music to our ears, aren’t they? We all love to hear that someone else likes our work, that something we did makes them proud, that they approve.

But perhaps a bit paradoxically, we try not to say things like this to heroes at The Village School. When we tell kids that we like their work or we think they did a good job, we are essentially giving them gold stars. It doesn’t take long to shift their drive from “I want to learn new things,” to “I need applause from another person.”

For this same reason, we don’t give grades. Grades have the unintended consequence of encouraging students to do whatever they need to do to get that ‘A+.’ Instead, without that pressure, our learners have room to tinker, try new things, work at their own pace, and make mistakes—all without worrying that they need to perform to perfection. That frees their young minds to learn and grow and helps foster the learner-driven environment that we are trying to create.

So we try not to praise results at TVS. But we still want to cheer our learners forward, steer them in the right direction, and maybe give them a boost of confidence. How do we shape that feedback?

In the studio, one thing we try to do is praise effort rather than results. We say things such as “Wow, I saw you keep trying and not give up.” Or “I can tell you worked really hard on that.” In praising their effort, we strive to help kids focus on the process they used to make something. That encourages them to continue trying in the future—to practice and get better—which builds persistence.

Another way is to ask a few pointed questions. “Interesting, what gave you the idea to use those colors?” “Wow, how did you decide to use wood instead of cardboard like last time?” These questions show our interest and engagement, but avoid any judgment—positive or negative. And if they seem hungry to do more or make more, we might say something like ,“Great, what do you want to do differently next time?”

Perhaps the hardest method—but one of the most effective—is to say nothing at all. So many times, kids aren’t looking for any kind of feedback while they’re hard at work. If they don’t ask, they won’t miss it!

Our fervent hope is that the payoff for learners will be huge and long-lasting. Their whole lives, they will be able to pat themselves on the back for a job well done rather than chase the elusive accolades of others. Above all, they will be excited to learn for learning’s sake, which will help maintain that precious intrinsic love of learning. That life lesson will take them far!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s