How to Offer Effective Praise or Criticism

How to Offer Effective Praise or CriticismWith the new semester of Ready-Set-Kiai for (3-4 year-olds)¬†and Jiu-jitsu Tykes for (5-7 year-olds) classes in full swing, lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on effective teaching methods for children. While the books I’ve been reading are oriented to children’s teaching, for the most part, the suggestions offered are good advice for teaching any age student. In particular, I read about how to offering praise and criticism that motivates them to learn and helps them improve. (*The book I learned this info is featured at the bottom of this post. Be sure to check it out.)

Avoiding Easy Default Praise

While we want all students to feel that they are training in a supportive, encouraging environment, it’s not enough to just tell a child, or any student for that matter, “Good job!” This kind of praise can seem empty and if the student lacks confidence or faces anxieties about their performance, they might just not believe your praise. On the other hand, a student might just eat up the praise and feel good about themselves, but have no understanding about what was good about their performance.

It’s well worth it to be more descriptive of what made the student’s performance good, whether you’re describing technique or simply behaviour in class, as is often an important factor in children’s classes. I often say to a child who has waited patiently for their turn, “Jimmy, I like the way you stood quietly in a good ready stance while waiting for your turn. Why don’t you go next?” For a more adult example, I might point out that a student is chambering the knee nicely for a particular kick when complimenting their performance so they know to keep it up.

Offer Constructive Criticism that Doesn’t Cut Down

No one likes to feel like a failure but sometimes tersely delivered criticism, regarless of how constructive it is, can make them feel like a failure and demoralize them in their training. So if a student is still building their confidence with their training, which is often the case with children and students who are new to the art, tell them what they’re doing right first. This helps soften the blow when telling them what needs to be fixed. And when giving criticism, try to give it in positive terms. Rather than telling a student “Don’t bend your wrist when you punch,” tell them “Try to keep your wrist straight while you punch.” It seems like such a small thing, but it helps students stay focused on what they want to do rather than their failure to do something, which keeps their training more positive in tone.

Over time, your students develop their confidence in their training and can handle less verbose criticism that gets to the point quicker so they can make adjustments with less breaks in their training. I know that the way I offer adjustments to my brown belt students is very different from what I do with my white belts. Criticism might be reduced to quick reminders for things I think a student should already know. Praise for techniques that they already know well might also be reduced to “Sweet throw!” That being said, there will always be new techniques or training situations that will challenge them and these methods of praising and criticizing will always be relevant in some way.

Now over to you. How do you like to receive or give praise and criticism? What ways work best for you? Please give your thoughts in the comments.

For more info on effective communication methods for teaching kids, pick up How to Talk So Kids Will Learn. Click the links below to see the book on Amazon.

Comments (1)

One thought on “How to Offer Effective Praise or Criticism

  1. When I teach new martial arts instructors how to teach, one of the first concepts we discuss is, “Praise, Correct, Praise.” Before correcting or “help the student improve” a move, I first explain what they are doing well, to help reinforce that action. But just like Lori said, don’t just say “good job.” Tell the student something specific that they are doing well. Then I explain how to “improve” and make the skill even better. I make sure to avoid telling the student that they are doing something wrong. The key work is “improve.” After giving the student time to practice improving the skill, I watch and make sure they understood the movement being corrected, then I praise them for completing the improvement to again reinforce the action and to let the student know that they are doing it correctly. This procedure works well on all ages and abilities.

    As for the point on effective criticism, I have experienced that telling the student what they are doing well, before telling them what they need to work on, or how they can improve. works well. I also make sure to keep the criticism short, specific, and limited to one item, specially for younger students and new students. For more advanced students I may give them two pointers, but this really depends on their confidence and emotional well being at the moment. -Best SJ

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