Tonight at bath time my husband was attempting to wash our three-year-old's hair. As he was trying to get her to lay down and get her hair wet she said (in an exasperated voice), "I'm being patient." I know he and I were both thinking, "This is what you look like being patient?"
This interaction got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Having read a lot of Alfie Kohn's work and Peter Johnston's Choice Words, I struggle with using praise with my students (and my daughters). I've come to a conclusion recently that what I am attempting to do instead is to label things: behaviors, strategies, skills, etc. Sometimes that means telling a student that what they are doing is rude. I'm not assuming they realize that already. Sometimes it means pointing out how efficient a math or reading strategy was for a student. Sometimes it means showing a student how they used dialogue in their story. Hopefully I am not making a judgment call but simply putting a name to what they are doing. (Although I realize that rude is a judgment call.)
Young children, and my students in particular, do not have words for all they see, try, or know. I hope by labeling things in conversations with them they will be better equipped to use that strategy again or choose an appropriate behavior.
As for my three-year-old, I'm not sure if we need to do a better job of labeling patience when she is actually demonstrating it or if she just labeled it so we will recognize it in the future.