Sunday, July 03, 2011

Never praise a child

Sounds a bit kooky but this gem of advice, from Professor Paul Black makes perfect sense when you look at the evidence. He is not saying don’t praise your child as a parent. This is advice for teachers when a child produces verbal or written work for feedback.

1. Never praise a child: “Never praise a child, praise what they did” says Professor Black, and by this he meant praise the work of the learner and not the learner. To praise the student encourages two ideas that are powerfully corrosive in learning; a) the idea that it’s all down to ability b) the idea that the ‘teacher’ likes me. Praising the person stops students from trying harder. Learners must believe they can change for the better.

2. Wait 3 seconds: Teachers have been observed to jump in too early when asking questions (less than a second) and rely on ‘hands up’ techniques, which encourages the extroverts & achievers but discourages the rest. Target questions to individuals, then wait, for at least three seconds.

3. Don’t pass judgement: Every answer deserves a positive response in terms of building confidence and not knocking them down. You have to steer between being too dominant and too open, but steering students in the right direction is the real art of feedback.

4. Right questions get right answers: Reflect on the questions you ask. Many questions just fill time or don’t stretch the students or probe understanding. Hinge questions are carefully structured to diagnose students, which is why coloured cards and clickers can accelerate a teacher’s diagnosis of whole class performance.

5. Careful comments: Comments on student work is hard work but some simple rules help. Avoid vague, general, “Needs more detail….expand…add a few thoughts of your own if you can” comments. Be specific about the error and recommend a specific action. A good comment would be, “You’ve used ‘particle’, ‘element’ and ‘compound’ in your answer, look at the glossary in your textbook to see how they differ”.

6. Automate marking: Marking does give learner a rough guide to what they know but those sorts of tests are automated on the web. Why, as a teacher, would you waste your time doing a soulless, mechanical task like marking, when computers do it more accurately and instantly? Leave that stuff to the learner and the web. Mark my words, not my ego

7. Use social media: As everyone wonders how social media can be used in education, some people just get on with it. One is Millie, who uses facebook, teacher blogs, student blogs, slideshare, Flickr, coveritlive, and citeme, to create a real community of learners around her subject. Social media is built around comments andfeedback. This will be the subject of my next post.


Sadly, summative, scored and graded assessment techniques are used inappropriately for formative feedback. With some simple adjustments teaching and learning can become more productive for learners. Black has the experience and evidence to prove this, so isn’t it about time that INSET days focussed more on these practical evidence-based techniques, rather than bogus theory and practice such as learning styles, R/L brain theories, Maslow, learning objectives at the start of lessons, Piaget, Brain Gym…..sorry blood pressure is rising.


Unknown said...

Interesting indeed....and true. More teachers should read this.

Peter Casebow said...

Also sounds as if there is cross over into Prof Carol Dweck's work on mindsets

Steve Smith said...

Just a word on "no hands up". Our experience with this is mixed. It can frustrate the most able (I do believe in ability!) and put pressure on the less able unless handled very sensitively, with careful differentiation of questioning. An interesting post. Dylan Wiliam is coming to our school next year to do a session. I look forward to it.