In a world of over-reliance upon pre-packaged off the peg solutions, where convenience food is pervasive due to the time-poverty phenomenon of modern life, convenience is often seen as the number one priority in everything. In this world, are over-worked teachers (NEU, 2018) (also recently reported in The Guardian, 2017), reliant upon the fast-food model of praise? Indeed do such models also please school leaders eager to show conformity, unity and measurable outcomes?
Teacher training makes strenuous efforts to ensure that everything trainees are taught is underpinned with sound theory and evidence based research, (Barnes, 2017) but does this fly out of the window, or indeed fly in the face of, targets, perceptions of what OfSTED want to see, performance management routines and the completion of tasks for the purposes of ‘quality assurance’ audit, more than impact and purpose?
Given the environment in which we operate it is easy to see why the plethora of “ready-meal” packages proves so popular with teachers, all eager to demonstrate their compliance with directives and show that they can give praise to each and every learner within the prescribed time frames, however the experience of the writers is that this is often a practice based on little to no pedagogical study.
This can be likened to the creators of our analogy’s real world equivalent; consider the chef who has completed extensive, rewarding training in a high-class restaurant, and then works in a cafe churning out freezer to microwave to plate unimaginative sometimes unpalatable food.
A quick Google search for ‘praise’ yields many ‘instant fixes’ (e.g. “A general 4:1 ratio of praise to reprimand statements is desirable. Using about 6 praise statements every 15 minutes is also recommended.” Tennessee Behaviour Support Project ‘Behaviour Specific Praise’. Vanderbilt University, 2018) and much which appears innovative, but is the use of a third-party, off the peg (e.g. teachertoolkit, 2014), solution going to do more harm than good? (BBC, 2014.) Insincere interactions and ambiguous intentions, not to mention confusion over the pedagogical grounding – if any – render these ready-to-serve solutions of questionable value, rather like the ubiquitous, brand-neutral, “economy burgers” which are gradually falling out of favour with the food industry as awareness of the health implications associated with them increases.
What’s a Praise Burger?
We’ve all at some point dipped our toes into the murky waters of fast-food consumerism – and if you’re an educator, it’s highly likely that you’ve partaken in this analogous counterpart too – and consequently the snappy soundbite that accompanies both products will also be familiar. “Great job!” and “Well done!” have been reduced to pieces of phatic praise which now ring empty in the ears of their respective recipients much like the jingle we can call to mind along with the infamous golden arches, or the “have a nice day!” which comes free with every customer service interaction.
Polystyrene-packaged, Throw-away culture? Quickly forgotten?
School leaders are likely to advocate praise burger type models for fear that otherwise they might fall foul of monitoring bodies such as OfSTED, in the manner of Barrowfoot school (Guardian, 2014).
How easy is it to digest? Learners are confused by mixed-messages, rather like the presentation-product mismatch of the appetising illustration on the menu or carton compared to the tepid and insipid product delivered.’Person’ praise, where learners are praised for a personal attribute, versus ‘process’ praise where learners are praised for the efforts and strategies they used in a task ( eg. Dweck, 1999) can have a detrimental effect on learners who experience any more than even one single failure. No praise at all, or just an objective form of performance feedback, such as 10 out of 10, can be preferable to ‘person’ praise in the face of failure. (Skipper and Douglas, 2012)
How enduring is the benefit? It could be that, rather like the sugar rush of processed foods, with instant gratification, but longer-term unwelcome effects, the praise has little value, is quickly forgotten or is storing up problems for the future.
Much more understanding by teachers of the mechanisms around praise is needed in order for them to produce the bespoke ‘ artisan’ style ‘praise burger’, where the teacher grasps how to sell it, where and when the learners wants to eat it, what kind of seasoning to use, just what the contents should be and how substantial. In other words, the teacher understands what the learner believes about themselves, their intelligence and their capabilities and how they will respond to further success and failures.
Charly Irons is a progress tutor at New College Pontefract
Liane Taylor is an Associate Lecturer in Teacher Education at Sheffield Institute of Education