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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.

Comments

yeah, i had a similar response to this article. it reminded me a lot of being in elementary school in the early 90's and getting the same stupid "you're #1!" sticker as everybody else in the class, and suddenly feeling...very...suspicious.

I must say I agree in your analysis Emily, and also with Gabe's response. This article actually reminded me of part of our CE training, when we had a discussion about how to comment and provide feedback on our student's papers - and one teacher said that she actually counted up her negative and positive comments throughout the paper and eliminated some to make them exactly 50/50 - this bothered me in the same way Daiker's piece did. It seems to me that, although I understand the value of support and encouragement, truly helpful feedback will address the real successes and failures of writing, regardless of whether the commentary is balanced or chock full of niceties.

And, I think the mantra's great - I might even go as far as to say "Instructive praise is constructive praise." You're a poet and you didn't even know it!

Emily, where's your constructive praise for Daiker's article??? All you did was find problems with it...You should go back and write "Nice!" or "Wowie, I like this!" in the margins a few times just to make up for it.
As you can see, I agree with your points. Although I saw myself in the article as being one of those meek, uncomfortable writers who doesn't like to share her writing with anyone, I also get angry when the feedback on papers is unspecific--especially when the grade doesn't correlate with the comments. How am I supposed to know what "Good!" means?? Being that vague with comments is a step backwards in the writing process, as far as I'm concerned.

Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

Sorry for the huge review, but I'm really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it's the right choice for you.