Constructive Praise is Easy in a Flipped Class

The focus of my school’s professional development plan this year is relationships. It’s kind of a refresher course on how to manage a class while still treating kids with respect. In a recent session, we got  chance to review the importance of effective praise. Not just praise but “effective praise.” We were asked to go out and be effective praisers for the following week and report back on how it went. I am pretty sure I had as easy a time of it as anyone. As it turns out, working in a flipped class environment makes giving effective praise the easiest thing in the world.

In my flipped Algebra and Prealgeba 7 classes the learners work at their own pace and when they complete a learning assignment they show me what they’ve got. I periodically check to see that they are taking good notes and they have to show me their problem sets when they are complete before they go off to check their results themselves. I don’t check their work, they check their work. I guess you could say I check their checking of their work. Each of these presents an opportunity for one-to-one communication focused on the goal (which is not to “take notes” or “complete problem sets,” but to learn how to think mathematically and solve problems). As it turns out, each of these is an opportunity for effective praise.

What is Effective Praise?

For praise to be effective, it should reenforce the behavior you want to see more of. Statements like “good job,” or “well done” are okay but not highly effective. My thinking on the power of praise has been influenced by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, Alina Tugend’s Better by Mistake, Charle’s Murray’ Real Education (don’t shoot me) and Dan Ariely’s The Up Side of Irrationality.

Here are my guidelines for effective praise in the classroom:

  • Don’t praise kids for being smart
  • Praise the effort that leads to a good result, not the result itself
  • Recognize sustained effort, even if the end result has not yet been achieved
  • Be impressed by hard work, not right answers
  • Praise something specific like “wow, the axes labels on that graph are perfectly spaced” not “nice graph.”

Sure it is okay to congratulate someone on getting a tough or interesting problem right, but wrap it in words that indicate that the effort it took to get there is what is really important.

The Flipped Class is Made for Effective Praise

Every time a learner shows me their work or we discuss their progress it presents an opportunity for effective praise. What is different about how this work in a flipped class is that the opportunities come to me, I don’t have to go looking for them. The opportunities are built into the system. Nothing cold be easier!