I used to chew my fingernails when I was a little girl, but luckily, I broke myself of the bad habit. I realize I also had some bad habits when I was a classroom teacher. In particular, two problematic areas come to mind as I reflect on best practices in early childhood education.
My first bad habit was giving students empty praise. When we say “good job” and “way to go,” we think we are building children’s self-esteem and inspiring them to continue striving. However, research shows we actually cause children to do things for extrinsic motivation rather than for the intrinsic joy of learning. We also never tell them exactly what they did or how they did it so they can continue to improve and learn. Praise tends to be about pleasing the teacher and does not allow children to learn to self-evaluate. Long-term effects of praise can be to decrease students’ motivation, make them dependent on others to judge their efforts or to create students who will only perform if they receive praise. To avoid these negative consequences, encouraging children is a better strategy. Encouragement focuses on children’s accomplishments and efforts. It’s as simple as taking time to watch and listen to children, specifically commenting on what they are doing or asking them to describe their ideas and products. Imitation is the highest form of flattery so repeating what children say, mimicking their actions or joining in their play are other ways to encourage children as they learn.
My second bad habit was asking “quiz questions.” “What color is that?” “How many are there?” “What letter is that?” These were questions that I already knew the answers to and that did not give me good insight into my students’ knowledge. To promote “minds-on” learning with our young students, asking open-ended questions can give us more bang for our buck. “How do you know that?” “What makes you think that?” “Why do you say that?” These are questions that lead me to understand my students’ thinking and give far more information than the close-ended questions I used to interrogate children.
It’s time to break the bad habits! I now make a concerted effort to encourage children and ask open-ended questions. I say concerted because habits are hard to break. I often catch myself slipping back into “Awesome!” and “What shape is that?” However, we must remember that catching the mistakes in order to correct them is the first step for making change.
Epstein, Ann S. Social and Emotional Development. HighScope Press: Ypsilanti, MI. 2012.