Clap for Lucy

Lucy is almost 15 months old. She’s chunky, juicy, and has dimples that you can fall into. I was sitting on the couch after a typically awesome but tiring day when she grabbed the stool and started putting on her little demonstration.

I’m sure it’s very easy for you to see the sheer pride in Lucy’s face and body. We never trained her to do this, nor suggested it in any way. So if you’re like me, analogies for the process of learning are likely flowing through your brain like so many pints of Guinness in a Dublin pub.

The main connection I instantly made was to our conversations around student motivation and feedback. In the many great debates we have around this topic (extrinsic/intrinsic, rewards/punishments, badges, etc.), I feel we have a tendency to simultaneously overcomplicate and oversimplify the matter. Overall, I feel we need to resist the urge to turn it into Republicans vs. Democrats, because it’s when we become too sure in our stance that we walk down the road of confirmation bias.

What I see in Lucy is a need to

a) challenge herself

b) accomplish things she is inately compelled to pursue, and sees people around her doing

c) have a shared celebration of those accomplishments.

Which leads me to consider what a celebration or acknowledgement of an accomplishment entails. In our house, if our little baby gets excited about being able to stand by herself on a stool, we clap along with her and shout various affirmations. Is that praise? Is it feedback? Do we give babies different kinds of feedback than we do to our teenagers? Is she motivated intrinsically or extrinsically?

I’d love your thoughts on this. What other analogies do you see in Lucy’s video?

Stay tuned for an accompanying post in which I reflect on the extent to which culture impacts our notions of ‘punishment’ and ‘reward’.



  1. Nice…

    I can’t help but watch Lucy with a little bit of fear… fear for her potential failure. Do we have safe (carpeted) landing spaces for learners should they dare to accept the toughest of challenges. Are there arms just out of view that will catch Lucy if she falls, or is such failure seen as a learning experience?

    The other thing I think about in this video, is audience. Lucy’s achievement has now been celebrated well beyond the family, and beyond the living room. Should the successes of our students be made public in similar ways? What about the failures of our students? (and our teachers?) Should they also be celebrated beyond the walls of the classroom?

    Lots to think about in a short family video. Thanks Lucy. Thanks mom and dad. πŸ™‚

  2. I love that connection, Rodd. I remember Janet and I discussing that very thing that day. “Should we just let her do it? What if she falls? What’s the worst that can happen?” Sometimes I wonder if a big part of parenting/teaching is actually constantly balancing risk/reward.

    I think you know my own answer to your second paragraph as I’ve seen with my own eyes the power of soft-walled celebration of success and failure.

    Thanks for the provocative comment!

  3. What I take away from this video is the importance of positive reinforcement. Your family clapping (and Lucy, too) is all she needs to put a big smile and her face and to motivate her to keep taking new risks!

  4. I think feedback is critical and it does not necessarily have to be positive – just honest and helpful in that it enables the child/student move forward. It also has be seen more as a conversation than as a final point in learning.

    I have always been reluctant to praise, especially that which focuses on the child’s “qualities” (“smart”, for instance is a heavy-loaded word and it builds a certain mindset and expectations of the self in the young child). I always give feedback on the performance of a task and try to encourage the child to see why I appreciate the work/thought/opinion.

    I also think feedback changes depending on the age of the child as the motivation slowly shifts from a more “behavioristic” side to a more “internal” one. A teenager is definitely different from a 6 year-old in that regard.

    On a side note, lovely daughter! πŸ™‚

  5. Lucy was so incredibly happy and is so incredibly adorable that you can’t help but want to clap along with her. I love how she kept doing it again and again … priceless! I agree with Rodd though: the closer her head got to that stool, the surer I was that she was going to topple over. I’m glad that she didn’t. She succeeded, and you were there to cheer her along in the process … awesome!!


  6. Royan,
    Once again, thank you for your reflective thoughts and the way see the ordinary but interpret in extraordinary ways. Lucy is learning. Lucy is a risk taker. This is how we come into the world. We are born as human sponges ready to learn, to adapt, to try anything ( the terrifying thing that every parent knows). What happens to us along the way? Why are so many of the children who walk through those school doors so scared to take risks, so unwilling to try, so reluctant to learn new things?
    Our debates do become too complicated and we move too far away from the actual reality of the tasks that we debate so furiously and with such need to complicate. There are so many labels ( as you so aptly note), so many terminologies that spout from our mouths and fill the pages of our curriculum documents. But what of the actualities? We need to go back to Lucy, we need to look at why she so freely tries to do something she has not been taught. We need to look at why so many of our students have lost their spontaneous desire to engage, try, take risks, fail, start again, explore, question, challenge.
    Again, thank you Royan for another opportunity to stop and think.

  7. Balance on Juicy Lucy….
    Dad is proud and doing his duty
    Taping you for the world to see
    Sharing your happiness so proudly

    Sister claps and Mom frowns
    Will she be okay if she falls down?
    Reassured it’s safe for Lucy
    Dad tapes on, sister praises profusely

    The joy of the act needs no reflection
    No deeper thought than a small mention
    Juicy Lucy brought joy acting goofy
    Thanks for the gift beautiful Juicy Lucy


  8. Royan, I think your post speaks to a central and unavoidable reality. I often refer to it as the power the bell curve. Other folks use the term shades of grey. What I truly identify with -beyond the joy of seeing a child engaged – is the need to look at an idea, a discussion, an approach, a project, a person – with a sense that the position of the idea etc. lives on spectrum of options. Often the inclination to hold a position (power of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation) does more (in my opinion) to stunt than to grow an idea etc.

    Your perspective is one that aligns with my view of the world.

  9. Hey Royan – we often clap for our firsts for our daughters… not sure if this is goo or bad but the girls figure out that the clapping stops when it becomes less exciting (we don’t clap when they take steps anymore :-))

    Kids love to perform… and clapping for performance is an acknowledgement. We just dont need to overdo it and clap for everything and be sure that the acknowledgement does not turn into praise that is a reward. Motivation is on a spectrum rather than an either or – and praise is somewhere in between ext and int – all depends on how it is viewed and if it is about getting someone else to do what we want.

    Always thinking and reflecting – if we had this figured out, we would have nothing to talk about!

  10. Hi Royan,
    Have been meaning to comment since you posted. Nice to find all the comments here now, and even a poem! πŸ™‚

    Why we do what we do at any age can seem complex at times. I guess for any given action or behaviour both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation could be involved at the same time. But as you referred to, it is great to see youngsters pursue things that are just natural and innate, as well as watching what they imitate in their worlds. I also think that kids are quite perceptive and will know if praise or celebratory gestures are genuinely about them, or become about something else – wherever in their worlds as they get older.

    For example: I have heard some interesting comments from older students who have been in the spotlight over an accomplishment and their school will “celebrate” it, but they are often well aware when the school or district promotes itself in the process of the celebration.

    I also got thinking about “validation” from your post. Do we confuse validation that we might give our loved ones as giving praise? Lots to think about with feedback. I could probably think about clapping too much as well πŸ™‚ Like when my fitness class ends and the instructor thanks the group for coming out — some people clap and I am never sure if it is because they are giving feedback to the instructor, proud of themselves, happy for the workout, or happy that the class is over πŸ™‚ Maybe all of the above! Not much of an analogy to anything, but interesting to me πŸ™‚

    Not sure I have added anything profound, but thought I would drop by. I enjoy what you share about your little ones. Enjoy it all…the teen years are….fun πŸ™‚

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