Praising your guitar students may actually reduce their practice
Don’t congratulate your students too soon says Professor Ravi Dhar of Yale School of Management. Professor Dhar conducted a study showing that when students make progress on a goal it can cause them to sabotage their goal. E.g. The students who were acknowledged for making good progress on their studies leading up to an exam were more likely to take the same night off reducing their chances of passing their up coming exams. In contrast students who were not acknowledge were much more likely to study as usual and increase their chances of success.
What does this have to do with teaching guitar?
Everything. Haven’t we all been told that its important to praise our students when they put in a big effort? Doesn’t this contradict everything we believe? Not really when understood. We need to be careful about how and when we praise. I have found that praising what matters makes all the difference. In other words praising a student for putting in a bigger than usual effort is actually a mistake. This promotes inconsistency. What we want to be praising is consistency. Look at the difference between the following two statements;
1. “Congratulations you had a huge week. That’s twice as much practice as you normally do.”
2. “Let me say that what makes you such a great student is your consistent practice record. There is hardly a day go by where you miss a practice session”
Understanding the difference types of praise
Professor Dhar has indeed found an interesting finding but it must be understood. We should praise our students but praise them for the behaviours that we want more of. In the above study students who are congratulated for a big pre-exam study effort take the night off because they can justify it. They say “Hey I deserve the night off”. Those who are praised for consistency I believe who respond differently because they have been praised for consistency. They now identify themselves as consistent and taking the night off would feel wrong. While I have never conducted a formal study I know this to be true with my own guitar students over the years.
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