Commenting vs. Complimenting. Three benefits I've learned.
Patience is not my superpower when it comes to my career. The patience I've had to endure (yes, I said it - endure) since last December has involved: looking for and finding the "perfect" house, the endless negotiating and paperwork involved in buying a house, moving into a "new" house after living in the same house for 20 years, renovating the house, leaving my job, starting a new preschool, waiting for students, and on and on. It's kinda been relentless. But, the great part (because when you don't have patience, the universe creates scenarios to teach you patience) is that I have had to do and had the time to do things that I ordinarily don't do or have time to do.
Three things I've really appreciated is that I've had time to learn from other amazing educators, I've had time to reflect on what's worked in teaching littles over my 15+ years, and I've been able to do a few blog posts. Fun fact: I used to love writing eons ago when there were dinosaurs.
Something I've been thinking about is the difference between commenting and complimenting. This was a challenging differentiation for me during my teaching time. I started teaching in 1989. If you want a scare, Google "What was teaching like in 1989?" and then click "images."
We were taught from coworkers and education gurus of the time (because college then didn't teach you anything about the real classroom) that saying, "Good job!" was an appropriate way to encourage or compliment children to continue learning and give them high self-esteem.
Then a few years later we were taught 100 different compliments to essentially say Good job! because apparently children got sick of hearing Good job! all the time, but would want to continue learning, and have high self-esteem if we used the other 99 ways.
Sometime in the 2000's, the general consensus in education changed about 180 degrees (that's normal for education). We learned that there might be better ways to encourage learning and improve self-esteem than complimenting kids all the time. And I finally (better late than never) learned the benefits of simply commenting rather than complimenting. Reflecting now this was a game changer.
Commenting gives children the language to understand and assess what they are doing. With children (especially young children) a language rich and descriptive environment is essential to learning. Saying, "You are stacking four red blocks," or "You have a steady hand while you are placing that block on your tower," or "Your tower this time is one block higher than your last tower." is infinitely more developed in sentence structure and vocabulary than, "Good job!" or (one of the other 99 ways) "Super tower!"
Based on my experience, the child who is told the former will be more apt to say, "I used one more block to make this tower" than the child who was told the latter. Their language and their metacognition is increasing. Bonus: The more we comment with character traits we are trying to instill (patience, perseverance, helpfulness, etc.) the more children are apt to comment about that as well. Example: "You really persevered through making that tower. It fell two times, but you kept on trying." Again, in my experience it doesn't take long to hear a child say, "Look! I persevered and kept trying!" See my play dough post because there really is no sweeter sound than, "I kept trying and now I can open the play dough by myself!"
Commenting can be done in any circumstance regardless of what is taking place or the child's ability in that situation. Good job! was always problematic for me because it is judgment loaded. What if it's not a good job? What if it's a bad job (the child did not succeed in the task)? Do we say Good job! but not mean it? Do we say Good job! but it's still wrong? Such an awful and confusing conundrum (not helped unfortunately by the other 99 ways of saying Good job!).
By simply commenting we remove all judgment and thereby create a path for more individualized learning - measuring children by their own growth rather than by comparing them to a standard we've set. Going back to the play dough example imagine if the task is to attempt the letter L out of play dough. Child A creates it and the adult comments, "You created the letter L with play dough. You have one big line down and one little line across at the bottom." Child B gets one big line down and the adult says, "You have one big line down. Look at this letter L, do you see what is missing?" Child B realizes what's missing and creates the missing little line. Adult comments, "You did it. You made the letter L with play dough. First you had only the big line down, then you looked carefully at the letter L and realized you were missing a piece and you created the piece you were missing." So much is conveyed (and we hope eventually internalized by the child) in this comment - sometimes we need more than one attempt, we can look carefully at what we need to do, we can go back and try again, perseverance and diligence are valued.
The last benefit I see to commenting is that it sets up a learning environment in which we are all learning and progressing on our own path. We are all acutely aware of our learnings, but not for the purpose of comparison, but rather personal improvement. I attended a Highscope training a few years ago and to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of complimenting the presenter had attendees (teachers) create a short project. When we were done she doled out a series of Good jobs! with no explanations or comments (seemingly randomly) to all of us. This went on (uncomfortably) for about five minutes. Then she asked us how we felt. Some teachers said they were confused, some said it was not helpful feedback, some said they were uncomfortable but didn't know why. Then the presenter went back and commented on each of our projects. The difference was incredibly instructive and memorable.
I've learned the benefits of commenting with children are numerous, rewarding, and most importantly - best practice. I save my compliments for adults and my dog. They seem to respond well.
If you are still reading - Good job! hahaha! Seriously, if you are still reading - you persevered and tolerated my writing for eight minutes (according to Wix)! Huge thanks.
I'll end with something else I've had time to do - play with all the things! I cannot wait to get our first students to use these incredibly cute dishes a wonderful friend donated to me. I hope you love them as much as I do. Have a great day!