Positive reinforcement, words of praise vs. acknowledgment


At a recent MGOL training workshop in Indiana, a discussion on the effect of praise was started.

Apparently, according to the HighScope curriculum, praise can be harmful. In a 2011 resource guide (ReSource2011.12winter_72-1.pdf):

“Many well-intentioned teachers have used praise to improve children’s self-esteem and self-image, but the outcome can be just the opposite. Research from the field supports this conclusion. Alfie Kohn (1999), noted author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, explains the potential damage to children when adults use praise. Children learn to depend on adults for figuring out what is right or wrong, instead of developing this ability themselves. Rather than rely on their intrinsic motivation to learn, learning or “performing” is done in order to please others. Children lose the interest and ability to work and learn on their own. By contrast, children who can evaluate their own performance with encouraging feedback from interested adults remain involved. Moreover, they are self-correcting, that is, they can ask questions of themselves and work to solve problems on their own. Learning is inherently satisfying. Furthermore, “praise” implies judgment. Preschoolers know that if you can judge them favorably, you can also judge them unfavorably. Exploring or trying something new might result in “failure” from the adult’s perspective, so children stick with what is safe and has earned them praise before.”

In the context of Mother Goose on the Loose, this would mean that when children hit “STOP” on the drum, rather than responding with positive words (“fantastic, wonderful, marvelous, etc.”) a better response would be something that acknowledges their achievement by describing it rather than judging it, i.e. “You hit the drum!” (said enthusiastically with a smile), “You hit loudly!”, or even simply, “Bang!”

What do you think about this?  I am going to do some research to find out more about this intriguing concept, but I would love to have an online discussion with comments from those who are familiar with the theory and have used it, to those people who have had experiences with praise. Since it is difficult to post comments on this blog due to the large amount of spam that is consistently being filtered out, please add your comments to Mother Goose on the Loose’s Facebook fan page.

I’m always happy to learn new things and am very curious to find out more about this. So, please join in the discussion and share your comments!



About Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen

A renowned national speaker and accomplished author, Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen is best known as the creator of Mother Goose on the Loose, an award-winning early literacy program. Her charismatic presentations always include an easily-understandable combination of research and practice. Recognized by the ASCLA Leadership and Professional Achievement Award for “revolutionizing the way librarians work with children from birth to age 3” and the 2018 Vattemare Award for Creativity in Libraries, Betsy’s passion is for helping children and the adults in their lives be the best they can be while sparking a love of reading.