Rewarding Student Participation

In responding to student questions there are a number of guidelines which can positively reinforce good student responses and facilitate further discussion.

  • Praise the student in a strong positive way for a correct or positive response. Use such terms as "excellent answer," "absolutely correct," and "bull's eye." These terms are quite different from the common mild phrases instructors often use such as "O,K.," "hm-­hm," and "all right." Especially when the response is long, the instructor should try to find at least some part that deserves praise and then comment on it.
  • Make comments pertinent to the specific student response. For example, suppose that a student has offered an excellent response to the question, "What function did the invasion of the Falklands serve for Argentina?" The instructor might say, "That was excellent, Pat. You included national political reasons as well as mentioning the Argentine drive to become the South American leader." This response gives an excellent rating to the student in an explicit and strong form. It also demonstrates that the instructor has listened carefully to the student's ideas.
  • Build on the student's response. If the instructor continues to discuss a point after a student response, he or she should try to incorporate the key elements of the response into the discussion. By using the student's response, the instructor shows that he or she values the points made. By referring to the student explicitly by name (e.g., "As Pat pointed out, the Falklands' national political status... ") the instructor gives credit where credit is due.
  • A void the "Yes, but... "reaction. Instructors use "Yes, but..." or its equivalent when a response is wrong or at least partly wrong. The overall impact of these phrases is negative and deceptive even though the instructor's intent is probably positive. The "Yes, but..." fielding move says that the response is correct or appropriate with one breath and then takes away the praise with the next. Some straight-forward alternatives can be recommended:
    1. Wait to a count of five with the expectation that another student will volunteer a correct or better response.
    2. Ask, "How did you arrive at that response? (Be careful though, not to ask this question only when you receive inadequate responses, ask it also at times when you receive a perfectly good response).
    3. Say, "You're right regarding X and that's great; wrong regarding Y. Now we need to correct Y so we can get everything correct."
    4. Say, "Thanks. Is there someone who wants to respond to the question or comment on the response we've already heard?"

These four alternatives are obviously not adequate to fit all cases. Indeed, it is generally difficult to field wrong or partially wrong responses because students are sensitive to instructor criticism. However, with these alternatives as examples, you will probably be able to generate others as needed.