Praise where praise is overdue

19th August 2005 at 01:00
I have a female student with low self-esteem who will not accept that she is improving. I keep praising her to little effect. The problem is deep rooted and stems from her troubled relationship with her parents and her experience at her last school. I am uncertain what to do. I have seen this happen before and I am determined not to let it happen again.

I recently attended a training day where this issue was raised. The problem is this; you are praising your insecure pupil in the same way you praise others.

If you say "well done" to a confident pupil, he or she just feels more confident. But if you say the same thing to someone with low self-esteem, it has no impact at all. It can't be me, he or she thinks; I'm a failure and I know it because I have evidence of my failure.

You simply have to be more precise with those with low self-esteem and you have to accept that you can't turn them around with one well-meaning phrase. It is important that you direct their attention to precisely what part of their work has warranted your praise.

Use previous work to measure the improvement and by doing so, you make the idea of improvement unequivocal. Be sure to record this improvement, too, because on another day the same pupil may easily believe it didn't happen.

But that is just the beginning. Remember that trying to come back from failure is like walking through estuary mud.

Dilemmas should be emailed to Donald Short at

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