To appreciate or not to appreciate kids/students

Recently, a friend of mine asked me this question:

In my last few interactions with freshers, I have found some to be really good. Although a lot of my conversations with freshers covers encouragement and motivational phrases, I also appreciate (from my heart) good work when I see it, good thoughts as soon as I hear it.

But I have realized that appreciation gets to their head, and they just stop delivering immediately. A day or 2 from the appreciation they just stop.

I was talking to one of my friends and he said something that surprised me. He said, dont appreciate in lots, infact do it in phases. Club appreciation with some criticism/feedback. Freshers have use this a way of feeling really good and actually start thinking that they will get 50L jobs starting tomorrow.

Throw some light on this. I am looking for some wisdom here.

I don’t really have enough expertise in this area, so I did not really venture an opinion.

However, I do remember reading about some research in the area of kids’ motivation, which essentially said this:

Do not praise the achievement. Praise the effort.

Here are more details from an New Yorker Magazine article about experiments conducted by psychologist Carol Dweck and her team:

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

These days, I am skeptical of these psychological studies since they study some tiny aspect of psychological theory in isolation, and there is no guarantee that any of this really works in practice. As someone said, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.

But that article does have a lot of interesting insights to chew up.

In any case, those who have some experience in this area (those with grown up kids, or those with some sort of a teaching background, or any other relevant experience), can you weigh in on this topic. What do you think?

(You should also check out the comments on this topic on my Facebook page)

One thought on “To appreciate or not to appreciate kids/students”

  1. Hey Navin,

    Very interesting topic and something that I having been reading about every now and then. For me, it is all about “How” you appreciate rather than “what”. I personally treat “appreciation” as a tool to facilitate and improve learning.

    Now, I am talking specifically about kids here between age 2 to 12 and I will give you an example.. My son who is 7 years old, his writing was really bad. Hardly any letters were, how they were supposed to be. Generally traditional methods suggest that you make him practice using various methods, or then try to tell him how bad writing will affect his marks or then the favorite method “if you write nicely, I will give you this or that” or then scold and more such things.. (Please note that in all these things, we are continuously telling child that “you are bad at this thing and you need to improve”
    And, I personally did few of the things above, but it did not help.
    Then one day I just decided I am not going to tell anything but just appreciate and do positive reinforcements.
    One day when he was writing, I told him that your writing is really improving… And then, I said it again after some time… From that day onwards he improved his writing so much, that for me it was beyond belief.
    All the while I just told him that I was proud of him of the amount of effort he was putting into improving his writing.. “whether in reality he was improving or not”

    For him, it was like he was now obligated to improve his writing because his father has been telling him about it all the time. He put that much more effort in it….

    I have used same methods for different things, and more often than not improvement was immediate in whatever field..

    (Please note here, like I said previous “how you do it” is very important) You need to understand kid’s temperament and speak accordingly.

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