Sunday, April 22, 2012

Exalting our Children: The Value & Impact of Praise on School Achievement

Just as gold is an ore with rich possibilities, so too is the presence
of culturally diverse gifted students in our midst. They
may be difficult to identify as gifted students and even harder
to convert through nurturing programs and services into creative
producers in our society, but the end result cannot be
denied. It is glorious to behold! Such students become the
exemplars for their culture and for ours.
—Joyce VanTassel-Baska

To exalt means to: praise, laud, acclaim, sing praises of, speak well of, extol.  The opposite of exalt is: denigrate, belittle, disparage, put down, malign, defame.
Today, our society spends an inordinate amount of time in different venues disparaging, maligning and denigrating culturally and linguistically diverse (cld) learners, their communities, and families. Today’s post will draw attention to the benefits of praising, lauding, speaking well of, and extolling these same children, youth and their families. This post is a modified excerpt of a chapter I wrote that was published in 2008. The chapter shares an extended literature review and findings of studies reflecting the value and use of praise in the very types of students and families that we often find ourselves doing everything but ‘praising’.  Please read, share and use this material as you make efforts to enrich the experiences of cld gifted learners in your work and community.
Talent development studies have consistently mentioned that one person; usually a parent, grandparent or mentor can be identified in the life of a successful gifted person to have had the greatest impact on their success.  When these individuals’ lives are examined more closely, there are expressions of encouragement and praise that the individual can remember as being of great support to them during their developmental years. Parents of gifted learner, in particular, those who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted programs nationwide, often believe that they may often be the child’s sole source of praise and encouragement. 
Many African Americans, Hispanic Americans and others who may be under-represented in gifted programs and those who originate from low income neighborhoods, often attest to the fact that it was parents, extended family members, and other adults in the neighborhood who encouraged them to do well in school so they could have a better life than previous generations. When they recognized a ‘spark’ of brilliance in these children, they would be encouraged to ‘go to school’; 'move on', 'do better', 'rise above the current circumstances'. These communities have always professed to believe that education was the ‘way out’ of oppressive life conditions. For generations students were also encouraged to believe that education was one of the most important mechanisms by which our people could be placed on a more equal footing with the dominant culture.  We admit, however, that there are scores of children and youth who don't receive this kind of nurturing, encouragement and praise from the home, however, there have been others just as instrumental in their success as the research synthesis notes below.


Five decades of research and theories examined reveal thematic concepts that have potential for expanding our understanding of the origins of learning and achievement of culturally diverse families and students. At a time when a 'deficit perspective' of the abilities, personal attributes, and home experiences of economically disadvantaged learners was pervasive in the field of gifted education, a select group of pioneers who believed differently about these learners and who set out to provide empirical evidence to the field that would enable the development of program models to more fully develop the gifts and talents of cld learners.
The research literature has provided evidence of positive characteristics of families, mentors, and extended family members, and programs  who use PRAISE and ENCOURAGEMENT  that positively impact  school achievement.
The following are characteristics that successful cld gifted students and their families have in common across cultural groups and studies:
o   Consistent encouragement from one single individual: mother, grandmother, teacher
o   Peers and cohorts of similar cultures, genders with similar ability levels
o   Extra support provided (socio-emotional and financial) from the extended family , including ‘church family’ and mentors
o   Parents/families who 'speak up' to access specialized programming for their high ability learners
o   Resilent behaviors (teaching how to 'bounce back' after failure or challenges) nurtured through ‘family stories’, and stories about same-culture/same-gender  leaders who ‘beat the odds’
o   Frequent conversations in the home about the value of education for the individual and the group’s upward mobility
The type of support mentioned here has  greatly contributed to the development of children’s internal strengths, resilience, and persistence in the midst of real-life, daily challenges that could inhibit their growth. Many cld gifted youngsters from challenging life backgrounds have succeeded because someone believed in them, praised them, spoke highly of them and continued to encourage them in a world where children like them are often denigrated, put down, and maligned.  One mother says it clearly in discussing how and why she supports her gifted African American male son’s school achievement:
There is much work yet to do in gifted education, children are emerging from difficult life settings each day, many hold the potential to lead this nation and our world in more ways that can be mentioned here. I encourage everyone reading this post to share it with others and be an encourager to a child who needs your support. While you’re at it, encourage their families and teachers, too.
Remember: We’re all in this together!!

Davis, J.L. (2008). Exalting our children: The role of family in the achievement of African American low income gifted learners. In T. Stambaugh & B. McFarlane, (Eds.), Leading Change in Gifted Education: The Festschrift of Dr. Joyce VanTassel Baska (pp. 161-168). Austin, TX: Prufrock Press.

Additional reading: 
‘I always want the best for him. I encourage him, I feel that if I don’t exalt him.. nobody else will’


  1. Lovely, Dr. Joy! The more I work with and come to know children/teens, the more I am convinced that every single one of them is gifted in some manner. We have opportunities on a daily basis to help hold up a mirror to students, to help them see what we see in them!

    Thanks for your post!


  2. Beautiful! And SO true for every single child. Every child deserves at least one person who lights up with love and pride when they see them.