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Tips for New Teachers

Goodbye to "Good Job!"—The Power of Specific Feedback

Margaret Berry Wilson

Your principal has come to your classroom to observe a lesson. At the end of the lesson, she smiles, says "Good job!," and leaves. After a moment's satisfaction, you begin wondering what she meant. Was your pacing effective? Did she notice that you've made progress using positive language?

Now suppose the principal had added specific feedback to her general praise: "You used positive language many more times than when I last observed you. I know you've really worked hard to change your language; the children seemed to really respond to your efforts." With those few words, she's acknowledged your hard work, the specific strategy you've used, and the positive outcome that's resulted.

Students, as well as adults, often feel frustrated by general praise. Although the intention is good, using general praise on its own does little to help students understand your expectations and recognize their own achievements.

In contrast, when we name specific academic and social behaviors in our feedback, students become more aware of what they're doing well and what they can do to improve.

Three Tips for Giving Great Feedback


  • Name only behaviors that have actually occurred. When children are giving you their quiet attention, it is the right time to say "I see children sitting quietly." If you give that feedback to a squirming, restless class with the hope of improving their behavior, they will feel as if you are disingenuous and are trying to manipulate them. Instead of helping them improve, you run the risk of undermining your relationship with them.
  • Say what you see, not how you feel. "I love it when you line up so nicely" emphasizes your personal approval, suggesting that the primary purpose of good behavior is to please you. In contrast, saying "You lined up quickly and quietly today, so now we'll all have more time in the library" emphasizes children's capabilities and suggests the most important purpose of good behavior: enabling children to learn and enjoy school.
  • Avoid naming some students as examples for others. Saying "Gildy's doing such neat handwriting today" to encourage other children's neat writing can lead to resentment of Gildy and feelings of discouragement. It's best to save remarks about specific children for private conversations. When speaking to the whole class, use direct, inclusive language: "I bet you can all write neatly today. What might help you do that?"

Sample Phrases for Helpful Feedback

Here are a few examples of specific feedback for various classroom situations.

During transitions

"You kept your hands to yourselves and used quiet voices on the way to the library. We got here so quickly, you'll have extra time for book browsing!"

"I see trash going into trash cans. I see backpacks being put away."

During group activities

"I notice people giving supportive clues. Have you noticed other things that are helping this activity go well?"

"Listen to the respectful words you're using!"

During independent work time

"Many of you are remembering to put the books back in the bins so others can find them."

"You used several sound words in your poem. That helps readers hear what you're describing."

In one-on-one conversations

"Remember when you thought fraction problems were really hard? Today you did them all with no trouble."

"Vinnie, you offered to help Emelyne clean the table. That's an important way of taking care of her and our classroom."

Every day, you have many opportunities to give feedback to your class. Use those opportunities to offer specific feedback focused on children's positive behaviors. Each bit of such feedback will help students understand your expectations, build on their strengths, and recognize themselves as competent and independent learners.

Margaret Berry Wilson is a Responsive Classroom professional development specialist with 15 years of experience teaching kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. She leads workshops and coaches teachers on using the Responsive Classroom approach. Wilson is the author of What Every 2nd Grade Teacher Needs to Know About Setting Up and Running a Classroom and the coauthor of Doing Math in Morning Meeting: 150 Quick Activities That Connect to Your Curriculum.


ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 10. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit

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  • Charles_Underwood 4 years ago

    Thank you for your "specific" examples of specific descriptive praise. In observing teachers, I tire of hearing them say, "Good job" to their students over and over.