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Positive feedback improves performance! As we discussed in Motoropoly – 1, feedback has both instructional and motivational effects. However,  as therapists, we quickly revert to our ever-reliable “Good job!” every time our patient, young or old, completes an assigned task.

Quick disclaimer! SeekFreaks, this article is not an attempt to jump in the fray of whether saying “Good job!” is good or bad. I’ll leave that up to educational psychologists. Rather, I am writing this article to give other ways of providing feedback. Anyway, aren’t you tired of hearing “good job!” x number of times in an hour from yourself or from your colleagues? After hearing it over and over, I often wonder whether it is starting to lose its meaning and effect?

But before we jump into our suggested alternatives to “Good Job!,” it will be well worth it to first talk about a few concepts that guided me in coming up with these alternatives.

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Generic versus Non-Generic Feedback

Chiviakowsky and Drews (2014) tested 2 types of feedback on the motor learning of 10-year-old children.

  • Generic Feedback 
    • Implies that task performance reflects an inherent or stable ability
    • This has also been called a “person praise,” since it describes an individual’s trait
  • Non-Generic Feedback
    • Implies that performance is malleable
    • This has also been called “process praise,” since it focused on one’s effort in performing the task

They conducted 2 separate experiments using kicking tasks and throwing tasks. For phase 1 of the kicking experiment, the generic feedback group received statements such as “You are a great soccer player” after every few trials. On the other hand, the non-generic feedback group received statements such as “Those kicks were very good.” This was followed by another block of trials where both groups received identical negative feedback to find out how such a setback will affect motor performance (phase 2). A no-feedback retention test was then conducted 10 minutes later. Results showed similar kicking accuracy during the trial blocks. However, the non-generic feedback group performed significantly better than the generic feedback group during the retention test.  

In the throwing experiment, the authors wanted to test for longer term retention (1 day later), and remove the influence of intrinsic visual feedback to the children’s performance (by wearing opaque swimming goggles).  

The practice phase was similar to the kicking experiment’s phase with a generic feedback and non-generic feedback group. In addition, all subjects also received directional feedbacks such as “a little bit to the right” or “much too long” after every trial.  The experiment continued 1 day later, when 2 retention tests were conducted. In retention 1, both groups received identical negative feedback. Immediately after, a 2nd retention test was conducted with no feedback. Performance was similar for the practice phase and retention 1. The non-generic feedback group performed significantly better than the generic feedback group during the 2nd retention test.

Carol Dweck in her book MindSet explains that praising a trait (e.g., “you’re smart”, “you’re a good drawer”) does not foster self-esteem and can jeopardize success since success is dependent on an inherent inflexible trait (i.e., you’re either smart or not, you’re either good at kicking or not). On the other hand, praising effort can be motivating and fosters persistence (i.e., you can get good grades or get better at kicking if you practice).

So clearly, a non-generic feedback that shows performance is malleable is better for learning.

By the way, starting a praise with good job is not necessarily bad, but don’t end the statement there. Good job at what? In one of her experiments, Cimpian, et al (2007) used the non-generic feedback “You did a good job drawing!” — and it worked better than the generic feedback “You are a good drawer.”

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Self-determination has been defined as a “combination of skills, knowledge and beliefs that enable a person to engage in  goal-directed, self-regulated behavior” (Field et al, 1998). According to  self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci and Ryan, 2008),  there are 2 main types of motivation:

  • Autonomous motivation
    • Includes:
      • Intrinsic motivation
      • “Types of extrinsic motivation in which people have identified with an activity’s value and ideally will have integrated it into their sense of self.”
    • Results in volition or self-endorsement of one’s actions.
  • Controlled motivation
    • Includes:
      • External regulation, where one’s behavior is contingent on external rewards or punishments
      • “Introjected regulation, in which the regulation of action has been partially internalized and is energized by factors such as an approval motive, avoidance of shame, contingent self-esteem, and ego-involvements”
    • Results in pressure to think, feel and behave in particular ways

Deci and Ryan (2008) stated that compared to controlled motivation, autonomous motivation tended to result in

  • Greater psychological health
  • More effective performance on heuristic types of activities
  • Greater long-term persistence

In reality, students often receive a combination of both autonomous and controlled motivations. High autonomous and controlled motivation is associated with positive educational outcomes; however, Guay, Ratelle & Chanal (2008) pointed out that a pure autonomous motivation is the most highly associated with positive educational outcomes.

As an additional caution, a meta-analysis by Deci, Koestner & Ryan (1999) found that the use of extrinsic rewards (a type of controlled motivation) undermine intrinsic motivation (a type of autonomous motivation).

So, there is no question that autonomous motivation is the best way to encourage self-determination so that students will embrace, enjoy and value an activity for its own sake, rather than as a result of an external pressure. This is especially true, when we are helping children to participate in lifelong fitness activities as we have discussed in the article Role of PT in Lifelong Fitness. (By the way, for further reading, Wilson et al, 2008 did a nice summary of various research on how SDT applies to motivation for health-enhancing physical activity.)

Therefore, as therapists, we should reflect on the feedback we provide to ensure that they are supportive of autonomous motivation. Kusurkar et al (2011) suggested the following tips, among many others: encourage active participation, encourage students to accept more responsibility in their learning, provide structured guidance, and give positive and constructive feedback.

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Sharing Knowledge

As discussed in Motoropoly – Part 1, sharing knowledge is another way of providing verbal statements. This includes talking about the task, such as describing what the child is doing, explaining the difficulty of the task, explaining why a certain way is better than another, and asking the child questions about the difficulty, understanding, and  execution of the task (Niemeijer, et al, 2003). We can apply such concepts when providing verbal statements to children.

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SeekFreaks’ 50 Alternatives to “Good Job!”

Now we are ready with our list. I tried to categorize them into different strategies. But do know, they often overlap. The important thing is that you use different combinations and your own version of the examples below. And do say them in your own way.

1. Praise effort

  • “The amount of effort you are putting in is paying off.”
  • “You showed great focus when performing that task.”
  • “By sticking to your exercises, you can now do this.”
  • “Wow! You worked hard and made it.”
  • “See, because you practiced, you are getting better at this.”
  • “By using this device everyday, you are now completing your homework on time.”
  • “Yes! You’re learning by repetition.”

2. Point out the process that contributed to success or almost succeeding

  • “You figured out that by putting your hands here, you can push your wheelchair farther.”
  • “That works! You can put your hand there for balance.”
  • “You got it – by clicking enter, you can move on to the next part.”
  • “That is an effective way of doing it.”
  • “You used a really good strategy that works for you.”
  • “Yes! By holding the paper that way, it was easier for you to cut it.”
  • “That’s it – by keeping your tongue there, the sound comes out clearer.”

3. Point out the improvement

  • “Last week, you can only walk 30 feet. By sticking to your daily routine, you have gone up to 50 feet.”
  • “Last month, this word was hard for you. With practice, you are now using it with no problem.”
  • “Before, I had to help you move your arm this way. You have now learned to do this by yourself.”
  • “Wow! You are now keeping up with your class!”
  • “See, now you can open the juice box all by yourself.”
  • “You can go up 2 floors now without taking a break.”
  • “You have just learned 2 difficult words today.”

4. Describe what you observed

  • “When you moved your arm this way, the ball went farther.”
  • “That’s a great technique to put on your jacket.”
  • “That’s it! Holding it that way is easier, right?”
  • “That is a good way to use the word ‘but’.”
  • “You cleared the step by bringing your leg up this way.”   
  • “Yellow is a nice color for this flower.”
  • “That is a good way of asking for my help.”

5. Talk about the next steps

  • “Tell me, what’s next?”
  • “What color do we use for this one?”
  • “We made it here! What do we need to do now?”
  • “One down, two to go.”
  • “What happens after this?”
  • “That’s done, ready for the next challenge?”
  • “What goes after this part?”

6. Ask how they think they did

  • “How much of this project do you think we accomplished today?”
  • “Was that easy or hard for you?”
  • “Did you reach your goal?”
  • “Did you get short of breath?”
  • “Do you think you were faster than yesterday’s?”
  • Use a chart, and ask “how did you do compared to last month?”
  • “Now you’ve tried it 2 different ways, which way was easier for you?”

7. Ask how they did it

  • “Tell me your technique again.”
  • “Why do you think you got farther today?”
  • “You got it. How did you do this?”
  • “This is done! What did you do differently today?”
  • “That was challenging. What did you learn from it?”
  • “How did you finish faster this time?”
  • “Show me how you did this part.”

8. Say nothing

Finally and certainly, not the last option – say nothing. We do not have to provide praise or any type of feedback all the time. In our article, Motoropoly – Part I, we discussed feedback within the context of the challenge point framework (Sulivan, et al, 2008; Sidaway, et al,2012).

This framework, in essence, points out the intuitive idea that there is an optimal level of challenge that will result in learning. Too hard or too easy, and you don’t learn. There are many factors that affect the level of challenge: age and feedback may be two of them. Adults may require less feedback to make an activity “just right” challenging; children may require more feedback to reach the “just right” level. (Motoropoly – Part 1)

With this in mind, a harder task requires higher frequency of feedback compared to an easier task. Too much feedback can actually be detrimental to performance of a task that is easy, or a task that is becoming easier with practice. Be conscious of tapering off your feedback as the task gets easier. And, learn to just enjoy the moment – or rather, let the child enjoy the moment of success, without saying anything.

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Freakishly Fast Poll

Pick 3 of the above categories that you use most often with your students.

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Seeking Your Views

What do you use as an alternative to “Good Job!”? Write it in the comment box below.

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Readers of this article also read:

Motoropoly 1: Motor Learning Principles in School – Instructions, Feedback & Demonstrations

Article Review: Do Teachers Know the Impact of Preterm Birth?

10 Handy American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Resources

Article Review: Child-focused vs. Context-focused Intervention

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