Positive Descriptive Feedback

The term “Positive Descriptive Feedback” is gaining traction in early childhood education. On the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT), it is a required component in nearly every indicator. But what does it mean? It means to add words that describe the behavior you are acknowledging. For a child who walks (instead of runs) to line up for outside play, instead of saying “Good job!”, you would say “Thank you for using your walking feet when you lined up!” This technique puts to the focus on the behavior instead of the child.

Why is that important? Specific feedback allows a child to connect their behavior This technique is specifically helpful when addressing challenging behavior. Students who struggle with following the rules need specific feedback to make those connections. Telling a student who struggles with sitting at circle time “Good job!” while sitting quietly at carpet does not help the child understand what behavior you are praising. Is the “good job” for sitting, not talking, listening, keeping their hands to themselves, having both shoes on their feet, or for a picture they drew earlier in the day? Instead, try saying “Johnny, I see you sitting on your spot with your hands in your lap! Thank you for following our circle time rules!” This is even more effective if you point to a visual of the rules while you are talking.

Students who struggle with behavior often carry a lot of guilt and shame. This is another example of why it is important to link feedback to behavior. One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, has written many books on shame and guilt. She describes the difference as: “I did something bad” is guilt, while “I am bad” as shame. Guilt, though it has a bad rap, can be a useful tool when dealing with challenging behavior, while shame has no positive value and is detrimental to a child’s development.

Examples of Positive Descriptive Feedback

When looking at the TPOT, there are specific times that assessors are looking for positive descriptive feedback. I am going to use this tool to give examples of appropriate feedback.

  1. Transitions between activities – “You cleaned up snack all by yourself!”
  2. Engaging in Supportive Conversations with Students – “Wow! You guys were sharing toys and playing together so nicely! The town you built with blocks is so interesting!”
  3. Promoting Children’s Engagement – “You are working so hard on that picture!”
  4. Providing Directions – “You and your friends helped each other clean up the blocks!”
  5. Teaching Behavior Expectations – “When you helped pick up the toys, you were being a team player!”
  6. Teaching Social Skills and Emotional Competencies – “Sally, Madison looks so happy because you helped her clean up her snack!”
  7. Teaching Friendship Skills – “Wow! Look at you! You are all being a good friend and taking turns with the train!”
  8. Teaching Problem Solving – (presented to the group rather than an individual child “Today, when Johnny wanted a turn at the art easel, I saw him ask Sally if she was done. Sally said she wasn’t done, so he asked her to come get him when she is done, that was a great solution!” (this works even better if you ask Johnny to explain the solution he tried to the group)

I hope you found these examples helpful. Comment below with any helpful tips you want to share about positive descriptive feedback or with any questions you have.

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