Learning to Praise...well.
The moment I began reading Daiker's "Learning to Praise," I was convinced this was going to be an article for me. Hemingway is my favorite author of all time (I've read all but two of his works of longer fiction) and A Moveable Feast is one of his best, though not particularly well-known. Anyhow, I settled comfortably down to read in the basement of my sorority during silent "Study Tables" and immediately burst into a muttered diatribe about the article-- not good, considering that Study Tables and their mandated silence are under my purview as Vice President of Intellectual Development. I was a little ashamed, but it was righteous indignation, I assure you.
While I get the concept of praise and will admit from experience that it is difficult for us English people to do, I found Daiker's article frustrating. While he implies that it is important for teachers to "[label] and [explain] the desirable characteristics of their students' writing," he also makes irksome comments such as "[students] receive even vague compliments like 'nice' and 'good' and 'well written' with gratitude and thanksgiving." The picture Daiker paints here is of a beneficent teacher, tossing her gold coins of praise to groveling, ultimately undeserving students. Aside from that revolting nature of that mental picture, the point is not to praise just to make the student feel better about himself, but to demonstrate that there are things he does well so that he can mirror them in future writing.
Several of the comments given in the article in response to the "Easy Street" theme provide a nice example of the issues I take with "Learning to Praise." What, pray tell, is a student supposed to learn from comments like "I like this" or "Nice title" or "Nice structure?" It is not just in criticism that readers and teachers should seek to be constructive, but in praise as well. Many students, especially those who are unsure or inexperienced writers, will not understand even seemingly simple jargon such as 'structure.' Perhaps a more helpful comment would have been along the lines of "Nice structure-- moving from specific to general works very well here." I can't tell you how many times I've received a draft back from a professor with nothing--zero comments-- except the word "Good" scrawled at the bottom. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? I have thrown several rather ungracious fits when those papers have gotten less-than-satisfactory marks.
Although he hints at it several times throughout the article, Daiker would have done well to discuss explicitly the importance of constructive praise. Constructive praise is instructive praise, as I always say. Actually, I've never said that before but as it contains a nice rhymey duet and thoughtful repetition of the key word 'praise,' I may make it my life's mantra. See what I did there? Specific praise. I promise, it feels a lot better to the student than the oh-so-insufficient "good." Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go try and rid myself of this negative association with the beloved Ernest.