Alfie Kohn (2001) says that there are 5 reasons to stop saying “good job’”. The first one is that saying good job is a way of manipulating children. It is more for adult convenience; a means of getting a child to obey. Secondly, praise used inappropriately might increase a child’s dependence on adults and result in their relying on adult approval only
Walk into many early childhood classrooms and you might hear an adult say, “Good sitting” or “I like the way you’re clapping”. And why shouldn’t that be heard? After all, teachers are praising children and what’s wrong with giving praise? It is better than giving an M&M after the child completed the 5 piece inset puzzle, right?
Alfie Kohn (2001) says that there are 5 reasons to stop saying “good job’”. The first one is that saying good job is a way of manipulating children. It is more for adult convenience; a means of getting a child to obey. Secondly, praise used inappropriately might increase a child’s dependence on adults and result in their relying on adult approval only. The third reason, Kohn says, is that a child “deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do” (p. 25). Children might not continue or complete an activity once adult attention is removed is the fourth reason. Children lose interest in what they were doing once they get the praise reward. Lastly, says Kohn, praise given indiscriminately reduces achievement. Children who are praised for a task don’t do as well as children who aren’t praised.
Kohn points out that instead adults should give unconditional support in the “context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done.” (Kohn, 2001, p. 27) That doesn’t mean children shouldn’t be encouraged for their efforts. In fact, research shows that effort affects achievement (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). How we encourage children in their efforts is what will keep us from the pitfalls of “Good job”.
One way to do this is to keep the focus on the child. Use descriptive feedback. Describe what is seen, what the child did, without making judgments. Try using phrases that highlight the child’s effort: “You’ve worked so hard”, “You must be really proud”. Or say nothing at all. Believe that the child shared a toy, not because of the praise, but because, she is beginning to become less egocentric and more empathetic. Children do need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments and effort, but adults can make sure that it is done “…as a genuine expression of enthusiasm…” (Kohn, 2001, p. 28) and in the context of the positive relationship between the teacher and child.
Kohn, A. (2001). Five reasons to stop saying “good job!”. Young Children, 56(5), 24-28.
Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollack, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.