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The Problems With Praise In Parent-Teacher Interaction - With A Free Essay Review



The empirical research study that I chose was done by Danielle Pillet-Shore in 2012. Her study is on The Problems with Praise in Parent-Teacher Interaction, Communication Monographs, 79:2, 181-204. Shore’s goal was to further people’s understanding of what constitutes a compliment opposed to self-praise. She also explains how to identify an utterance that is eluding to a compliment or self-praise. Shore states, “Praising another person- for example via compliment- tends to be treated by scholars as a transparently supportive act, one that promotes social solidarity” (p.181). Self-praise, on the other hand, is widely regarded as a social transgression that undermines solidarity, which is the main difference between compliments and self-praise.

Shore defines compliments as a way of praising others and self-praise as a way of praising oneself. Compliments and self-praise should be mutually exclusive because, while the first is meant to be uplifting the latter is meant to put others down. Shore, however brings to light one interaction in which praising others and praising one’s self is not dichotomous; the parent-teacher interaction. Shores research reveals that when students are praised during parent-teacher meetings, instead of enjoying a moment of social solidarity, the act of praising a student causes interactional problems. For her study, Shore collected 41 videos of naturally occurring parent-teacher conferences, and did a conversational analysis while watching the films and writing down the interactions. It is important to point out that the students were not present during the parent-teacher conferences.

Shore did her research by analyzing the parent-teacher conference interactions that took place throughout four different public and private schools in three different school districts around the western United States. Shore analyzed the interactions that took place between fourteen teachers and 61 parents/ guardians of students ranging from preschool to the seventh grade. The academic standing of the students ranged anywhere from an “A” all the way to what an “F”. The parent-teacher conferences occurred naturally twice a year.

The study focuses on parent-teacher interactions, however those interactions might not always equate to a teacher talking to the student’s mom and dad. Shore states, “Many different parent/ caregiver and family types are represented, including biogenetic and adoptive parents/caregivers, grandparents with legal custody of the children, single parents, married/cohabiting parents, and divorced/non cohabiting parents”, (p.184). The conference videos were examined by Shore who documented all the instances where one of the participants performed social actions. Social action occurs when a speaker takes cues from the audience’s behaviors and modifies anything they might have said for the sake of the listener. Max Weber described social actions the best when he said, “an Action is 'social' if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course". Shore collected her data and then contrasted moments where at least one participant praised the student that was being assessed with moments where a student was being described unfavorably.

After juxtaposing the different interactions between teachers and parents, Shore discovered that the teachers and parents reacted differently to positive assessments versus negative criticism. The most interesting thing that Shore discovered was the reactions and verbal responses that parents give after student praise and criticism. Shore describes a meeting that took place at Pillet-Shore, a school in district 2011b, where a parent was told that their child was not performing well in a specific area. The parent who was receiving news that their child was doing poorly in a subject repeatedly tried to express the child’s inadequacy in that topic which would point towards the conclusion that the parent had previous knowledge of that trouble. Whenever teacher’s talked about how a student was doing poorly on a subject, not matter if it was a biological parent, foster parent, grandparent, etc., the guardian would imply previous knowledge of the fact.

Shore’s data showed that while parents have an endless supply of reasons and excuses as to why their child is lagging behind on a particular subject, the parents who receive positive reviews of their student pass opportunities to continue a two-way conversation. Shore noted that, “parents react to teacher’s praise by avoiding saying anything semantically fitted to the specifics of the teacher’s prior turn.” (p. 185). When the parents receive a positive assessment of their child, Shore noticed that parents would produce laugh tokens, head nods, or act surprised which signify that the parent does not want to take credit for their child’s success. The parents that have a child who received praise from the teacher would either accept the compliments or say thank you but refrained from expressing a desire for a two-way conversation.

Shore cites research done by both Ervin Goffman and Pomerantz that describe laugh tokens as an indication of embarrassment and modesty. Shore asserts that the laugh tokens that occur after every compliment a parent receives to be a sign that the parents are choosing a response that is safe. The laugh tokens are safe because it allows the parents to acknowledge the teacher’s prior statement while remaining humble by not furthering the self-praise. Shore describes an instance in which a dad responds to a teacher’s praise of his child by doing a shallow, rapid head nod. “Dad deploys his head nod here as a nonverbal continuer (Schegloff,1982; Stivers, 2008), visibly withholding a fuller vocal/verbal affiliative response and thus allowing Teacher to continue holding the conversational floor.” (p. 186). When parents receive bad news they continue the conversation in an attempt to explain their child’s struggles but when a parent’s child is praised, the parents do not attempt to prolong praise.

Shore points out two problematic reasons behind parent-teacher conferences; the first is that the meetings are meant to assess the student but the participants inadvertently leak information that exposes the parent’s judgment of the teacher and vice versa. The second problem behind-teacher conference occurs when teachers compliment a student’s behavior, teachers compliment and credit the parents as well. When teachers credit the parents with a child’s success they inadvertently create a space to blame the parents for a child’s problem. Shore noted that while parents will use laugh tokens to be modest of their child’s success, teachers will also laugh as a way of signaling the acknowledgement of the delicate conversation. Teachers will also laugh when parents praise them for a child’s success, which implies that the desire to be modest exists within both the teacher and parent.

In one example, a teacher laughs right before she tells the mother of a child, “you did good” (p.191) then the teacher continues laughing. The teacher’s laughter is caused by the teacher’s discomfort Shore states, “Teacher’s self-repair initiation and ultimate repair resolution reveal her orientation to the student’s performance as inextricably linked to the parents’ performance”. The teacher is laughing because even though she knows that her compliment had good intentions, it inadvertently means that the negative assessments of a child can be attributed to the parent as well.

Shore’s research has proven that at least within the context or parent-teacher conference interactions, teacher’s praise of student is equivalent complimenting the parent. The research also indicates that when parent’s praise their own children it is tantamount to self-praise. Shore also indicates three important contributions that her research has made within communication theories. First, she has furthered our understanding of evaluative talk on people that are not present. Secondly, Shore’s research has documented ways in which people receive praise, especially within an institutional setting. Lastly, the research has furthered understanding of what constitutes a compliment and what is considered self-praise and has shown that there are instances where the two are not dichotomous.

Shore outlined and described her methods of collecting data in a sound matter and it covers a lot of categories. Shore collected 41 videos of parent-teacher conferences that occurred naturally bi-annually twice a year. The interviews took place between sixteen teachers and 61 parents/ guardians across the Western United States. The data took 3 years to compile and it documented both positive praise and negative assessments of students. Shore used conversation analysis to study both the verbal and non-verbal conduct of conference participants. If Shore had only watched interviews of parents with good students then the data would only represent one type of interaction, however because the data has been collected over different cities, states, years, age groups, and race of students with different grades, the data Shore used to do her theory is non discriminatory.

One concern that I have with Shore’s method of collecting data is that in none of the parent-teacher conferences was the student being assessed present. Shore’s theory could have been further supported by comparing conferences where the student was not present with ones where the student was. When a teacher praises or criticizes a student that is not present, the parent of the child being mentioned may be more inclined to feel personally liable for the child’s actions. If the student being praised or disciplined was present, then the parents and the teachers can convey the message directly to the student; eliminating the need for parents to feel uncomfortable by either trying to prevent themselves from self-praise or by feeling like an inadequate parent.

The rules approach to communication theory applies to this study because of the social norms that can be either explicit or implicit. For instance, both parents and teachers laugh off compliments and praises that are implied when one is complimenting the focal student’s behavior and progress. Both parent and teacher are attempting to be modest and not act in a manner that reflects self-praise either because that person was told not to brag in the past or because one has witnessed a bragger undermine solidarity amongst other people. The third rule of the rules approach, the one that states rules are contextual also applies to the study. While both parties are refraining from self-praise within the context of a parent-teacher conference, it is not always unacceptable to brag. One parent might brag to his or her spouse about how their child is smart because of their genes or parents might brag to other family members and friends about how smart their child is.

The empirical research study conducted by Shore follows the scientific method to theory building. Shore’s theory is testable, it is replicable, and her explanation adequately explains the communication phenomena that occurs place during teacher-parent conference interactions. The theory that Shore has is testable, falsifiable, heuristic, parsimonious, logically consistent, and pleasing to the mind. Shore’s theory follows the functions of a theory because she organizes experience to stimulate research in order to anticipate knowledge and extend knowledge. Shore’s fundamental goals of her theory were to predict, explain, and describe interactions that take place within parent-teacher conferences. Shore predicts there exists situations where compliments and self-praise occur simultaneously; parent-teacher conferences. She explains how and why both participants behave and react the way they do by describing compliments as acts that promote social solidarity whereas self-praise produces the opposite effect.

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ESSAY REVIEW

I have no idea if this is a comprehensive or accurate account of Shore's study, but it does have the appearance of one. Because I know nothing about Shore and next to nothing about the topic, my comments will be fairly limited in scope. I will begin with the problem of repetition, and then move on to questions of paragraph organization, transitions, and clarity.

Repetition is sometimes a stylistic problem and sometimes just a matter of redundancy. Your final paragraph twice uses the word "testable" to describe Shore's study. That's a redundancy, though probably an accidental one. In the same paragraph, repetition or near-repetition also introduces a certain stylistic monotony (Shore's theory is testable / The Theory that Shore has is testable / Shore's theory follows / Shore's fundamental goals of her theory were). I have to leave you to decide whether that kind of thing is a problem in your discipline.

The most obvious example of basic repetition of content is the first half of the paragraph beginning "Shore outlined and described her methods ... ." Ultimately in that paragraph you want to make the point that the study includes no discrimination. You might consider starting with that point so that the topic of the paragraph is immediately clear (i.e., begin the paragraph with a topic sentence). Doing that will have the added bonus of making the function of your repetition clear: you are reminding your reader of the methodology of the study in order to demonstrate that the study is objective. You can also let the reader know that you know what you are up to by saying something like "As we have seen, ..." This shows the reader that you know why you are repeating yourself.

You can and should still conclude that paragraph with a claim related to the topic sentence. E.g., "For these reasons, the study appears to be sound." Doing that will allow you to create a natural transition to the next paragraph, to which there is presently no transition. If you end one paragraph with "The study appears to be sound" and the next with, "However, I do have one concern with the method of collecting data … ," then the logic underlying the order of your presentation will be clear to the reader.

Now the point of this paragraph in which you discuss your concern with Shore's method of collecting data is a bit unclear, however. The paragraph claims that including conferences in which students were present would have supported Shore's theory. But from there it only goes on to indicate the general value of having students present at conferences (it would "eliminat[e] the need for parents to feel uncomfortable etc."). What it doesn't do, in other words, is explain how the extra information that might be derived from studying these other kinds of conferences would support Shore's theory. Perhaps you are assuming that the point is obvious, but generally the least obvious thing to readers are the connections between claims or between an argument and evidence when those connections are not explicitly laid out. This problem recurs in the concluding paragraph where you make a number of assertions about the wonderfully scientific character of Shore's theory but do not clarify why you think those assertions are true.

I also think, by the way, that the essay as a whole lacks a clear statement of what exactly this theory is. I can follow your account of the study, and I see how the study results in certain observations and findings, but which statements actually count as an articulation of a specific theory?

The other problem affecting the clarity of your exposition is the introduction of technical terms. Normally, when a quotation includes technical terms (e.g., "self-repair initiation and ultimate repair resolution") you should explain those terms. In the case of the quotation just referenced, you summarize the significance of the quotation, which is good, but don't clarify the actual meaning of the technical terms. It may be that there is no need for such clarification if the technical terms are commonly used within your discipline, but if you are not sure about that, it would be advisable to clarify.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: choongsam
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