The Power of Praise

Less than 6 weeks ago my new Year 7 class took part in a gymnastics taster lessons. This is part of a new carousel of 8 activities we are trialling in Year 7 in order to give the students an exciting taste of what’s to come during the academic year and also help staff set accurate and aspiring targets. During the gymnastics lesson I witnessed confidence levels crash land as the girls inevitably started comparing themselves to their peers and feelings of inadequacy flooded in. No amount of encouragement or praise seemed to change things and many students said they did not feel confident enough to show any of their work to the other students, and the ones who did certainly did t produce the same quality of work as they had done 10 minutes earlier.

Six weeks on and we have just completed a unit of work on Dance, following a superheroes theme. This is the first time I have taught dance in over a decade so it’s been a good challenge for me. Knowing that our destination point would be a final small group performance in front of the whole class, with their peers assessing them, I was determined to make this happen without the confidence crisis I had witnessed in the gymnastics lesson.

This Thursday the entire group smashed it out of the park. Every single student performed with a big smile on their face, watched by the whole class and filmed by me. So how did we do it? Every lesson involved a small amount of sharing and showing ideas to another small group with at least a third of the class all performing at the same time. This gradually developed to more of the routine being performed to a larger audience with some verbal feedback being given. In support of this I made an extra effort to be more positive and precise with my praise, targeting specific students. I picked out ‘favourite bits’ at specific points, highlighting the good ideas and hard work from the students who I felt needed the biggest confidence boost, not just the usual superstars. With careful manipulation and tracking I made sure every student in the class had been awarded a star performer during the first 5 lessons within the unit of work. Finally, we had a pep talk on the day of the performance. We discussed how normal it was to be nervous and what to do if we forgot a bit or something went wrong, honing in on the whole school value of Resilience. This created a safe environment where students felt confident enough to perform, knowing that they had the full support of everyone in the room.

I was so proud of every single student in the class and I told them so. I even broke the cardinal rule and gave everyone a star performer for the lesson. I simply couldn’t choose between them. They all supported each other with smiles of encouragement, big applause and constructive feedback. I couldn’t have asked for more of them. Now we start all over again with hockey sticks in our hands next week!


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