Acknowledging Publicly and Precisely What Students Do Well

Effective lecturers don’t just teach content; they also teach key ways of thinking about that content. When instructors hear or see a student demonstrating strong analytical skills, publicly verbalizing what that student is doing can demystify complex thinking and positively reinforce key skills. When a student draws a conclusion based on multiple pieces of evidence, Brett Flehinger purposefully spotlights what he observes. These moments propel class forward and advance his lesson.


Brett Flehinger, Lecturer on History

Student Group



Harvard College


American Populisms: From Thomas Jefferson to the Tea Party + Trump

Course Details

Fall 2016, 38 students

  • Acknowledge aloud when a student demonstrates particular proficiency with a skill (e.g., using evidence or demonstrating sophisticated analysis) as a way to affirm that student and highlight for others what strong thinking sounds like
  • Be specific when naming what students do well: Instead of a generic “nice job,” for example, use concrete, reinforcing, specific language
  • Public recognition confers status, so think carefully about how you can use this technique to not only reinforce key skills, but also to disrupt pre-existing status hierarchies among students
  • Hattie and Timperley assert that when properly implemented, feedback can increase the likelihood a student will persist in an activity.  In developing appropriate and effective feedback, however, instructors must consider the nature of the feedback, its timing, and how students might emotionally respond to that feedback and perceive its value (2007).
  • In one study, students were asked to take a multiple choice exam and rate how confident they were about their answers. They received feedback for half of the questions leading to enhanced retention of low-confidence correct answers, suggesting that providing feedback when a student demonstrates a desirable skill might be beneficial in promoting student confidence (Andrew et al., 2008).
  • An article in Mind/Shift describes “complex instruction,” a pedagogical strategy that works to create more equitable and productive math classrooms. In complex instruction, teachers “assign competence” when they see students utilizing productive critical thinking skills in an attempt to reinforce that skill and disrupt pre-existing status hierarchies.
  • Though aimed at middle school teachers, an article from Responsive Classroom shares transferable, useful, and actionable ideas for incorporating specific, reinforcing language into the classroom