It’s only natural. You are there as tutor to focus on helping a student get to grips with a difficult subject or topic. You are so focused on this that you forget the importance of praise.
Praising students in a sincere and meaningful way can provide the extra push students need to do their very best. It can also show them that even though they may not have achieved success in the past, it can be improved by making an effort, changing destructive habits and sticking at it.
Follow these tips for tutors and praise your way to success:
- Encourage students to ‘own’ their success: If a student has performed brilliantly at an exam or written a top essay, make sure they accept that success is owing to their effort, talent and hard work. Don’t allow them to chalk it to ‘good luck’ or ‘easy questions on the exam’. A student should be encouraged to express their satisfaction with the efforts they have made.
- Be specific when you praise a student: Avoid generic compliments like ‘You are really smart’ and hone in on specifics – e.g. ‘In this essay, your introduction sums up the body of your essay really well, yet leaves a little mystery. It piques the reader’s interest. This sentence and that sentence are very beautifully phrased’. By mentioning specific achievements, your praise will be marked by its sincerity.
- Don’t praise too lightly: Make sure your students have made real efforts or achieved results that you can point out, or they will not take your praise seriously.
- Involve parents: Send a note to your student’s parenting explaining what the child has done well. This will ease the pressure on students, many of whom are fearful of letting their parents down.
- Don’t limit praise to academic achievements: Students may need to improve in a variety of areas; these may include learning to take turns, be respectful to fellow students in a tutoring session or listening to other students’ points of view respectfully. Positive behaviour should be praised, in order to raise a child’s self-esteem and expectations. Some qualities you may decide worthy or praise include confidence (‘I like the way you defended your point’), consistency (‘I like the way you keep trying to solve the problem in many different ways, even though it is time-consuming and difficult’), good time management (‘I think it is amazing you managed to finish two essays and a project in such short time. You must have really timed your tasks well’), kindness (‘I like the way you listened to Student B and gently pointed out the inconsistency in their argument’), etc.
- Adapt the type of praise you give to the situation: If your student has just given a great speech in front of other students, praise them in public; if the student is shy, however, they may prefer to be praised in private, or perhaps with a note they can read later on. The aim of praise is to motivate a student, make them more resilient to failure and make them more confident in their own ability to change and improve outcomes, so it is important that you don’t unwittingly embarrass your student by praising them in a way they will not respond to.
- Praise does not always have to be verbal: It can comprise a handshake, ‘high-five’ or even just a smile. This is specially the case with older children who will understand plenty just by observing your body language.
- Encourage independent thought: Ask your students what they think about a particular historical figure or philosopher; encourage them to engage in healthy debate and to express their opinions on the subject of study. This is a very subtle way of praising them, since it shows you value their opinion and reveals the value of confidence in one’s own voice.
- Complement praise with other actions such as listening to a child with attention and asking their views on a particular essay or task you have set for them: Your time and interest are two of the greatest gifts you can give a student.
- Check that you are being fair: Make sure that you are not bestowing praise consistently just on the strongest students. Remember that your aim is to motivate the student and increase their belief in their own ability; it is precisely the weakest students who most need a boost in their self-confidence.
- Use ‘I’ statements to praise: Statements like, ‘I really appreciate the fact that you did all this extra reading on this subject because I asked you to’ or ‘I think it’s amazing that you took this risk and created such a unique project’, once again show genuine, sincere appreciation for your student. ‘You’ statements, on the other hand, sound colder, since they add an objective element to your statement – e.g. ‘You did a great job at finding all that extra reading material’.
- Consider using ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ and other short, ‘to the point’ responses in larger tutoring classes: This will make students feel less defensive when they have answered a question wrong, and since they will be hearing these terms to describe the responses of other students, their self-esteem will not be harmed.
- Do not use praise to compare two students: Do not lavish praise on one student, contrasting their efforts with another that maybe isn’t behaving well or is less productive. This is unprofessional, and the sincerity of your statements (and credibility) may be put into question and the act of praising is likely to lose its value in the long-term.
I hope that you have found this article useful. If you have any tips that you would like to share, please feel free to add them to the comments below.
We have a series of blog posts providing tips for tutors, you can find the others here.