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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, February 11 2019

100 Ways to Say "Well Done"!


We all enjoy praise and it is recognised as an effective method to motivate students.  However, in the times of Skinnerian psychology, the reward/punishment approach to behaviour modification, there was an emphasis on positive reinforcement as a method to sculpt children’s behaviour.  Of course, it’s hard not to feel this way, who doesn’t like to be praised?

The emphasis on praise has led to the ‘every one’s a winner’ approach to motivating children, whether that be in school or in sport.  This tactic has back fired on a lot of fronts least of all in fostering enthusiasm – ‘why try if I get a trophy anyway’ and, what’s more the trophy means nothing!

Studies in business conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada in 2013 looked at the effectiveness of praise and criticism.  They found that the optimal ratio was 5.6:1, that is almost six occasions where the staff were prise for every piece of critical feedback.  The low end had a ratio of 0.36:1 a very negative environment.

You do need to provide ‘negative’ feedback to correct behaviour, how will they learn without it but it must be a criticism of their actions, what they do.  Never about what you think they are, for the students with histories of abuse and neglect and the resulting toxic shame, any negative description of what ‘they are’ only reinforces their poor sense of self.

There are times when it is impossible to provide any positive feedback.  When I first started to work with these disabled kids the idea was you had to provide at least four positive comments before you could make a negative one.  Teachers being assessed had to maintain this 4:1 ratio.  I have seen teachers, placed in front of an ‘out of control’ class desperately trying to find something positive to say let alone keep up the prescribed ratio!  Children will see any praise at this time as disingenuous and the teacher will lose their credibility!  Sometimes you have to get them quiet enough they will provide a genuine reason to praise them.

It becomes obvious that praise has some value but research has shown that the value is what you praise and what you criticise.  When you praise the child for ‘what they are’ saying things like, you’re very clever, you are a natural, you find this work very easy, etc.; there is plenty of evidence that this has a negative effect.  Children praised for ‘what they are’ will lack motivation and lose interest in the tasks and have their grades actually fall.  Most dangerous is to tell them they are very clever.

The praise should be directed at their effort and their attempts to complete tasks.  Things like ‘I can see you have made a good effort in doing those maths problems’ or ‘that work is really good, I can see how much you have improved your maths ability’.  If they think they are getting better they will keep on trying!

A more detailed description of this work is covered in a previous Newsletter on Praise found in the blog for September 12 2018.

Finally, there are a very powerful group of students who have been so rejected they view any type of praise as suspicious, they see it as an attempt to manipulate them.  For these kids just consistently praise them for the right thing without expecting any positive feedback and they will eventually change their attitude as long as you hang in.  Remember it has taken years of negative reinforcement to get them to the toxic sense of self they present, it will take a significant amount of persistence to change that position.

So, it is important to choose your words carefully.  The following are some sentence starters that might help:

  • You’ve got it made.
  • That’s right!
  • You’re on the right track now!
  • That’s good!
  • You are very good at that.
  • That’s coming along nicely.
  • That’s very much better!
  • Good work!
  • I’m happy to see you working like that.
  • You’re really working hard today.
  • You’re doing a great job.
  • You’ve just about got it.
  • That’s the best you’ve ever done.
  • That’s it!
  • Congratulations.
  • I knew you could do it.
  • That’s quite an improvement.
  • Now you have figured it out.
  • You are doing much better today.
  • Now you have it.
  • Not bad!
  • Great!
  • You’re learning fast.
  • Keep working on it. You’re getting better.
  • Good for you.
  • Couldn’t have done better myself.
  • You make it look easy.
  • You really make my job fun.
  • That’s the right way to do it!
  • One more time and you will have it.
  • You’re getting better every day.
  • You did it that time.
  • That’s not half bad.
  • Wow!
  • That’s the way!
  • Nice going.
  • Now you’ve figured it out.
  • Sensational!
  • You haven’t missed a thing.
  • That’s the way to do it.
  • Keep up the good work.
  • That’s better.
  • Nothing can stop you now!
  • That’s first-class work.
  • Excellent!
  • Perfect!
  • That’s the best ever.
  • You’re really going to town!
  • Fine! Terrific! You’ve just about mastered that!
  • That’s better than ever.
  • Nice effort.
  • Outstanding!
  • Now that’s what I call a fine job!
  • You did very well.
  • You must have been practicing!
  • Fantastic!
  • You’re doing beautifully.
  • You’re really improving.
  • Right on!
  • Good remembering.
  • Keep it up!
  • You did a lot of work today.
  • Tremendous!
  • You’re doing fine.
  • Good thinking.
  • You are really learning a lot.
  • Keep on trying.
  • You outdid yourself today.
  • I’ve never seen anyone do any better.
  • Good on you!
  • Good going!
  • I like that.
  • Marvellous!
  • I’m very proud of you.
  • I think you’ve got it now.
  • You figured that out fast!
  • You remembered!
  • That’s really nice.
  • It’s a pleasure to teach when you work like that.
  • You’re right.
  • That makes me feel good.
  • That’s great!
  • That’s it!
  • Way to go!
  • Well, look at you go!
  • Now you have the hang of it.
  • Much better! Wonderful
  • Super!
Posted by: AT 11:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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