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November 23, 2015

How to Use Praise to Enhance Learning – Guest Post from Debbie Carona
This guest post from Debbie Carona (@debbiecarona) first appeared on Daily Genius.
About one and a half years ago, I fell, broke my foot, and had surgery to repair it. Two weeks later, I fellagain and tore my Achilles tendon. Lucky me! I earned even more surgery and a longer recovery. I don’t mind admitting that I was really discouraged as I looked at the reality of living with my son, wonderful daughter-in-law and their four kids for a month, the need for someone drive me around for several months, and a year before I would be walking smoothly. The point of this sad story isn’t to demonstrate my grace and basic walking skills. It is to share how I was reminded of an important lesson.


I spent over a year in physical therapy and developed a close working relationship with my physical therapist, Jessica. At some point, I realized that I was willing to work as hard as I could to receive a single word of praise from her. I would do my foot exercises at home and come into PT saying, “Watch what I can do!” Jessica continued to praise and encourage me throughout my healing. Each time we reevaluated my progress, she showed me the degree of movement I previously had and then recorded my new stats. In essence, she backed up her praise with documentation in order to make it even more meaningful.


Once I realized the impact of Jessica’s words, I began to think about the similarities between a PT with a patient and a teacher with a student. I began asking myself these questions: Was I praising each step achild took to reach a bigger goal? Did I back up my praise with concrete examples? Would my words inspire my students?

“Students love praise, and it often transcends into feelings of self-worth, intelligence, and joy.”- Avra Robinson


Since returning to school, I’ve tried to make my words count in a positive manner. During Just Right Reading, I call a student over to me. His face drops and it easily says, “Now what?” Then I ask him what he’s reading and would my grandson like that book for Christmas. That child’s whole demeanor changed. I’ve taken a small step towards building his feeling of self-worth. I’m showing a group of 2nd graders a new app when a usually quiet boy raises his hand. He explains adifferent and, I admit it, better way of doing something within that app. I immediately asked him if he’dcome to the SmartBoard and demonstrate his method. He beamed! His words and ideas have value. Towards the end of the trimester, I was working with one of our broadcasting students. I played her first news report and pointed out the iMovie editing she’d done. Then we watch her latest segment. By pointing out the differences, we were acknowledging her progress and growth in a very concrete manner.


I’m off my scooter, done with my casts and boots, but I don’t want to leave my physical therapist. Her belief in what I could accomplish and her praise throughout the healing process encouraged me to keep trying. When I look back at my time in physical therapy, I don’t really think about the pain and hard work; I’m more inclined to think about my overall success in learning to walk again. Encouraging students isn’t a new idea to me but this experience reminded me just how hard all of us will work to receive that little bit of encouragement. My goal is for my students to be able to look back at the end of the school year and have a feeling of success. So, I will mindfully continue to give authentic praise to my students until it becomes a more natural part of my classroom culture.

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