I’ve been doing Pilates since August 2008. I started it in order to get stronger after some surgery I had in 2007. I’ve been doing it three times a week for the past few months. While I have nothing even close to Madonna’s physique, I have certainly become stronger. My Pilates Instructor is very cautious about what I do since she wants me to be careful not to injure myself. That being said, she also challenges me to do more than I think I can handle. Since I began training with my instructor here in Pennsylvania this past summer, there have been several occasions that I have not been able to complete all of the sets in a given exercise due to a lack the physical strength. However, she’ll have me revisit the same exercise in a subsequent session, coaching me through something that’s tough with verbal cues. As a result, there are exercises I can do now that I could do six months ago.
As I left my Pilates Session today, I realized that a lot of the reason I’ve improved my ability to complete exercises that were once too challenging for me is due to my instructor’s use of praise. While she’ll often say, “Good job!” or “Nice work!” at the end of a set of exercises I complete, she also gives me specific and targeted praise when I’m working through something that she knows is hard for me. Today, for instance, when I was doing side planks on the low chair, she said, “Excellent job keeping your hips stacked.” Keeping one’s hips stacked during this exercise is extremely hard since wobbling is a reality when one is balancing their body weight on their hip bone. Therefore, her praise meant a lot to me since she noticed how hard I was trying to keep my form correct. This is just one, of many, types of specific and targeted praise I heard today from my instructor. Her praise makes me work through tough sessions. Her praise makes me believe I can push myself a little harder. Her praise makes me want to come back in order to continue to rebuild my strength.
Thanks to the Responsive Classroom Method, which I got trained in during the Summer of 2006, I learned about the benefits of genuine praise towards children. A lot of the work we did at the Responsive Classroom Summer Institute revolved around the way we (educators) talk to children. After my week at the Institute, I began to eradicate phrases like “I love the way you…” or “I like how you…” since that places a value-judgment on a child. At the Institute, we were encouraged to praise children by using phrases that started with the words “I noticed…,” “I see…,” or “I can tell…”
When talking with students, it’s important that we notice, see, and can tell the types of things they’re doing as young writers. When we are attuned to the things they do, their attempts to become better writers are validated by us. Using phrases like “I noticed…,” “I see…,” or “I can tell…” allow us to give specific and targeted praise to our students in a way that helps them understand exactly what they’re doing well. When a child hears what it is s/he is doing well, then it’s possible for him/her to replicate that again and again. (Just like I will always remember to keep my hips stacked every time I do side planks on the low chair going-forward.)
I’ve put together a list educators (and parents) can use when conversing with children. I divided the list into two columns: questions and statements. As you will see, there are a variety of reasons you might use a particular question or statement with a child. For instance, some statements are meant to help give praise, while others are meant to redirect.
NOTE: The questions and statements you see in the Scribd Document were inspired by my time at the Responsive Classroom Institute and from reading Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston.
Consider infusing one of these questions or statements into your conversations with your students next week… and maybe another one the week after. You will see that the way you praise, talk, and question your students will change as a result of the language you use when you talk and teach.
Finally, if you’d like to read more about teacher language, then click here.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).