Caring Enough to Praise and Acknowledge

An excerpt from the Second Edition of Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools. Available now at all book retailers.
Teaching Practices from America's Best Urban Schools Second Edition Book Cover
Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools Second Edition

In both subtle and overt ways, effective teachers provide specific, meaningful praise in response to student effort. Because praise is frequent, students (even older students) have become accustomed to receiving praise from their teachers and from each other.

At high-performing urban schools, frequent verbal and written responses from students provide teachers many opportunities to acknowledge and praise student efforts. Positive acknowledgement of behavior, effort, and accomplishment was far more abundant in high- performing urban schools than in typical urban schools. While in more typical schools, one might count one or two examples of teachers praising students in a short ten- or fifteen- minute observation, in high-performing schools it was common to observe several such examples in observations of similar length.

Perhaps most importantly, students perceived that the praise offered by their teachers was sincere. Often the perception of sincerity was supported by specificity. For example, a third-grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in Glendale, California explained to a student, “I like the way you made a logical inference about the character.” Similarly, a Hambrick Middle School (Houston, Texas) math teacher commented “Nice explanation of the meaning of slope [in a linear equation].”

At Eastwood Middle School in El Paso, Texas, a teacher was overheard telling a group of students:

I really appreciate the way you are thinking hard about this problem. It’s a tough problem, but I believe you’re going to solve it because you are thinking through the problem in a logical way.

In response, one of the students suggested to the group, “Let’s see if we can diagram this problem a little differently. We must be getting close.” Then, another student added, “Yeah, we can solve this if we keep working together on it.” In hundreds of examples like this, we observed students acting as if their teachers’ praise was a personal validation from a knowledgeable, sincere, and reliable source. Students perceived that their teachers believed in their capacity to succeed and students were eager to prove their teachers right.

In many high-performing elementary, middle, and high schools, praise took physical form on the walls of many classrooms and hallways. We observed far more attractively displayed examples of recent, high-quality student work in high-performing schools compared to what we found in more typical urban schools. Even in secondary schools, teachers posted outstanding examples of student work.

The posted work represented student efforts across multiple disciplines. In many schools, student writing was featured prominently. Typically, the posted work included positive teacher comments and grades. Often, the work was posted along with the academic objective the assignment was designed to measure. In many cases, teachers also posted a rubric or scoring guide that explained the criteria used to evaluate the assignment.

In some cases, students were eager to show the researchers their work on their classroom walls. “Hey mister, see this? I did this,” a student at Bonham Elementary (Dallas, Texas) bragged. Students saw their work on school walls as an indication that they belongedand that they were successful.

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