There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.
We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.
Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.
Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- The Collaboration for NDT Education, Iowa State University page Helping Students Become Motivated Learners has ideas for taking to students in meaningful and authentic ways.
- Although directed at younger children and their parents and teachers, the venerable Alfie Kohn offers some tips for things we can do other than praise. His Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” is applicable to college classrooms!
- Encouragement extends to our work as advisors and mentors. Cynthia Demetriouand and April Mann at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offer ideas for Encouraging First Generation College Student Success.