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The Difference Between Praise & Acknowledgment

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I regularly try to reflect on various aspects of my teaching practice, and one of the things I look at it is the kind of feedback I give to students.

I’ve written about this before in “What Kind Of Feedback Should We Give Our Students?” In that post, I share resources about Carol Dweck’s research on the importance of praising effort instead of intelligence.

Marvin Marshall, who writes a lot about positive classroom management strategies, just wrote about the topic in his email newsletter. Since it’s only available via email, and I can’t link to it, I’ll reprint a portion here. He frames it as the difference between praise and acknowledgment (I’d also call it recognition):

QUESTION:

Can you explain the difference between praise and acknowledgment?

RESPONSE:

It’s important to be aware of the difference between praise
and acknowledgment because so often we praise when we would
really rather create the outcome that acknowledgment
accomplishes. Acknowledgments encourage and motivate. They
serve to give recognition without the disadvantages of
praise.

The following two characteristics usually determine whether
a comment is one of praise or one of acknowledgment:

1. Praise often starts with a reference to oneself, as in
-”I am so proud of you for…. ”
-”I like the way….”

2. Praise is patronizing.

Praise has a price. It implies a lack of acceptance and
worth when the youth does not behave as the adult wishes.
Using a phrase which starts with, “I like,” encourages a
young person to behave in order to please the adult. By
contrast, acknowledgment simply affirms and fosters
self-satisfaction in the young person.

Notice the difference in the following examples:

Praise:
“I am so pleased with the way you treated your brother.”

Acknowledgment:
“You treated your brother very well.”
———

Praise:
“I like the way you are working.”

Acknowledgement:
“Your working shows good focus and control.”
———

Praise:
“I’m so proud of you for your good grades.”

Acknowledgment:
“Your grades show success in school. How do you feel about
that?”

Here is something to consider:
If you would not make the comment to an adult, then think
twice before making it to a young person.

I find this concept incredibly difficult to remember “in the moment.”  I know it’s the correct way to go, but I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Does anybody have any “tricks” to help prompt you to keep this difference in mind when you’re in the classroom?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

5 Comments

  1. Cool points, Larry—and ones that I’ve never thought about before! In fact, being kind of a tough teacher to please, I’m always proud of myself when I remember to praise my students.

    Perhaps that’s the difference, though: Heaping loads of praise becomes worthless and distracting to both students and parents. It paints a false picture of ability.

    But in my room, praise is used only in situations where it’s truly deserved—-instead of as a tool for motivation.

    I’ve still gotta remember to do more acknowledging going, though—-and to find ways for students to acknowledge the work of one another. That’s a real weakness in my practice.

    Bill

  2. You make a very good point, Larry, and I also find it difficult to give acknowledgement rather than praise – which even feels condescending when being delivered. I try the phrase, “I notice…” when giving feedback usually helps me remember. I guess saying “you” first should also help.

    I must remember to do this!

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  4. The domain of praise is in the emotional space whereas acknowledgement may be more in the rational/cognitive space. Praise may create more depedence culture whereas acknowledgement appears capable of more independence among the young one you are trying to develop.

    Praise gives a psychological raise ( i heard this from harvey mackay). Acknowledgement raises the ‘self knowledge’ .. is n’t it?

    Keeping this ‘distinction in mind in the moment’ could be hard but worthy of putting in effort!

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