Students have better focus in class if teachers praise them for being good rather than scolding them for being bad, according to a new study.
Researchers spent three years observing more than 2 500 students in 19 elementary schools across Missouri, Tennessee and Utah. The children came from 151 classes from kindergarten through grade 6.
The students exhibited 20%-30% greater focus on tasks when teachers gave out more praise than reprimands, according to the study. It was published in the journal Educational Psychology.
"Unfortunately, previous research has shown that teachers often tend to reprimand students for problem behaviour as much or more than they praise pupils for appropriate behaviour, which can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behaviour," said study lead author Paul Caldarella, of Brigham Young University School of Education in Provo, Utah.
"Praise is a form of teacher feedback, and students need that feedback to understand what behaviour is expected of them, and what behaviour is valued by teachers," he noted in a journal news release.
Even when teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students' on-task behaviour reached 60%, Caldarella said.
"However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom," he continued.
Nurturing self-esteem and confidence
The study findings suggest that praise can be a powerful tool for teachers to inspire students to work harder, particularly those who struggle academically or are disruptive in class.
Praise could also improve learning and grades.
"Everyone values being praised and recognised for their endeavours – it is a huge part of nurturing children's self-esteem and confidence," Caldarella said.
"Also, from a behavioural perspective, behaviour that is reinforced tends to increase – so if teachers are praising students for good behaviour – such as attending to the teacher, asking for help appropriately, etc. – it stands to reason that this behaviour will increase, and learning will improve," he said.
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