Carlos is a third grader. His family moved from Guanajuato, Mexico to Detroit when Carlos was in kindergarten. His parents often return to Mexico to sell clothes and other items they collect from garage sales, flea markets, and curbsides. Because of these frequent trips, Carlos has missed an average of 30 days per school year. He reads at a first grade level.
We are in our reading groups. Carlos is huddled with his two reading mates, the Negron brothers. This is the brothers’ first year in Detroit, having moved from Mexico the previous summer. Carlos is a natural leader and is guiding the boys through the assignment: completing the blanks of a story with key vocabulary from a word bank. They are struggling, but Carlos urges his group on, not completing a blank unless he is sure the boys are in agreement.
The teacher approaches their table and quietly observes for a minute. After Carlos fills in a blank with his awkward printing, he meets the teacher’s eyes. The teacher stoops to whisper in Carlos’ ear:
“Carlos, good job with the boys. You are checking to make sure they understand the words before you fill in the blank.”
The teacher taps Carlos’ shoulder, winks at the brothers, and moves on to the next group.
Praise has taken a hit lately. Books, articles, and keynotes have treated praise like a recently discovered virus. I beg to differ; praise given in the appropriate context is the key to a positive classroom atmosphere.
According to Todd Whitaker (What Great Teachers Do Differently), the above scenario contains the key elements of “good praise”: it is authentic, specific, immediate, clean (no “agenda”), and private.