« Ramblings... | Main | Hey »

Let's talk about [theory], baby

A few thoughts on the article, "Learning to Praise"...

Now, let me preface this with a little personal history. My father is an English teacher with a doctorate in education. I also went to a college-prep school. Because of these two things, I have had strong support in my development as a writer. I understand that I am an exception in writing development as opposed to the rule; not everyone has had strong writers standing behind them at every point in their lives, smacking them in the face with the protocols of good writing technique.

Now, this said, I am used to a lack of praise during the editing/grading process. The reason is because there is an implicit understanding between me and the editor/grader that the paper is good and the purpose for editing/grading is to point out areas where the paper is weak and to fix them, in the case of the grader, or to not make the same mistake on future essays, in the case of the grader. I have always had a great amount of critique on the essays, but always prefaced with statements like "This is a very strong paper, but..." or, "Excellent work! But take a look at..." At the same time, all of the English/History/et al. teachers I had throughout high school were not big on making comments, period. Notes were marked in the margins when a passage was particularly strong or weak, and saved most of the comments for the end.

In reflecting on the article, I do support the need for praise as discussed in the Daiker article. Positive reinforcement is important. Like flies to the honey, experiments like those discussed in Dalkier's essay [105-106], students are certainly in tune to praise and take it as encouragement to push themselves to improve upon their writing. At the same time, praise for praise's sake is not necessarily a good thing. Peppering the student's essay with "good", "well done" and other variations on the aforementioned is ultimately shallow and not beneficial to either student or teacher. It wastes the ink instructor's pen and does not help the student understand why the passage is good or well done. I do understand that the theory described throughout the article is a bit deeper than that, but, to play Devil's Advocate, the "enlightened scholarly views" [105] of making the writing process "positive, joyous, [and] creative..." [105] are akin to holding hands and singing Kumbaya. I'm okay, you're okay. Daiker's argument would be stronger if he offered a synthesis of the "school" and "scholarly" traditions [105], which is, I think, what has been given to me during my educational career. Using language to present praise and criticism at the same time ["Good, but..."] would be the greatest form of praise. I suppose if I had to choose a camp between the "scholarly" and "school" traditions, I'm certainly of the old-school. But that doesn't mean I'm going to rap the knuckles of a student for poor grammar. Gentle criticism and selective praise is probably the most helpful and useful for student and teacher.


I love your concluding sentence - "Gentle criticism and selective praise is probably the most helpful and useful for student and teacher." I learned a lot reading this article - mostly because I'm not used getting or giving praise on the "sidelines" of papers. By reading "Easy Street" and looking over the comments that tutors could give to students, modified version of those praises began to form in my head. Like what you said, maybe instead of saying "this imagery is awesome," we could say, "this imagery is awesome, and if you restructure a couple of your ideas around this imagery, it'll make your points to readers more clear." Praise is definitely needed to boost writers' self esteems, but like you said, we can grab their attention in that "happy" moment & enable them to learn something too.

Great title!

To be more precise, your title made me laugh and left me wanting more.