“Great Job!”… “Good girl!”… “Way to go!”…. It’s time to shake up your praise and make it more meaningful and effective.
Well-timed and genuine praise is one of the most effective tools piano teachers have in their arsenal. But all too often, in an effort to be positive and encouraging, we fall into the trap of hollow praise.
All of a sudden our words don’t have as much of an effect on our students; in fact they may not even notice anymore. Or, if they do notice, it might actually have the opposite effect we’re hoping for (Mrs. Wilson said that was amazing… but I know it wasn’t. She must think I won’t be able to actually do it.)
How to Avoid Hollow Praise
You may be thinking “But I want to encourage my students! I don’t want them to think that they’re aren’t doing well!” and I’m with you! We want piano teaching to be an esteem-building activity that produces well-adjusted and confident children. But to get to this end-goal you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions before “Amazing!” slips through your lips.
1. Was it truly deserved? Kids usually know when they’ve actually accomplished something great… or when they really could have done better. Receiving praise when they know that it wasn’t their best quickly takes the meaning out of praise when it actually is well-deserved.
When you say “Good job!” or “Great work!” constantly these quickly become un-heard statements…. just background noise. Even worse, they give the impression that your students don’t actually need to try hard to do better. Studies have proven that children who are automatically praised will learn to avoid challenges… they learn that they don’t need to try hard to get positive feedback. Yipes!
2. Am I being specific? Statements like “Great!” or “Good girl!” carry little meaning and can come across as fake (even when deserved). But being specific with your praise and focusing on the effort rather than the person (“I can tell you spent a lot of time on measure 32… you must be pleased with how it sounds now.”) carries more weight and demonstrates true sentiments much more effectively.
Specific and effort-based praise also clearly shows your student what she needs to do to replicate her success again and again. She knows exactly what she did right and can then repeat it.
3. Is This Praise Encouraging Self-reflection? Instead of the “white noise” of “Good work!” and “Way to go!”, praise can actually be phrased in a way encourages piano students to think about the process they used to find success.
Learning to self-reflect produces students who can problem-solve (The last time I had trouble with something this is what I did) and who are self-aware and an active participant in their own learning. Try praising piano students using sentences such as “What did you do to make that line sound so beautifully expressive?!”
4. Have I said this before? We all fall into habits of speaking to children and often we use the same words over and over again when praising our students. Bring more meaning to your well-timed and well-deserved praise by varying your vocabulary. How? Simply type “Great” into thesaurus.com and add some new words to your repertoire!