The next time a student pulls on your sleeve and asks, "How do you like my painting?" or "Is my story good?" resist the temptation to nod and give a generic answer like "nice work" or "good job." The words you use when responding to children's work are a major part of supporting children as they learn new knowledge and skills.
So instead, talk about what you observed in the work, such as "You certainly worked hard on your story today" or "Look at the detail you used in your drawing this morning." Simple, evaluation-free statements let children know you are carefully examining their work and truly paying attention to what they are doing.
Sometimes a probing question may be more appropriate. For example, you might ask, "What was the hardest part of this picture for you to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make this part the right size?" Questions like these also let children know that you are truly interested and paying close attention to their work. Another option is saying something positive about the work, as well as pointing out one thing that could be changed to make it better. In this way, you reinforce both the knowledge and skills the child has mastered and those that the child has not yet mastered. The reality is, very few papers created by young children are totally wonderful or totally awful. For example, for a kindergartner who is working on a representational painting, you might respond to a watercolor rainbow by saying:
"Jessica, you remembered the order of the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple! I'll bet you were thinking about our rainbow song when you painted this. Maybe next time you see a rainbow, take a closer look to see if it really just hangs in the sky or if both ends touch the ground."
This article was adapted from Positive Teacher Talk for Better Classroom Management by Deborah Diffily and Charlotte Sassman (© 2006, Scholastic).