science

Praising pupils rather than punishing them can improve focus by up to 30 per cent, study claims 


Hey teacher, leave those kids alone! Praising pupils rather than punishing them can improve focus by up to 30 per cent, study claims

  • Experts monitored 2,536 students in US classrooms over a three-year period
  • The pupils ranged from kindergarten to sixth-grade level — or between 5–12 
  • Those receiving more praise from teachers were found to be more attentive
  • By improving student focus, more positive classrooms could boost grades 

Praising pupils for their efforts in the classroom — rather than punishing their bad behaviour — can improve focus by up to 30 per cent, a study in US schools found.

Experts monitored over 2,536 students in the US over a three-year period to see how attentive they were in relation to the ratio of praise and reprimands teachers gave.

With student focus linked their ultimate grades, getting teachers to spend more time praising their pupils in class could help to booster learning, the team conclude.

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Praising pupils for their efforts in the classroom — rather than punishing them — can improve their focus by up to 30 per cent, a study in US schools has found (stock image)

Praising pupils for their efforts in the classroom — rather than punishing them — can improve their focus by up to 30 per cent, a study in US schools has found (stock image)

Psychologist Paul Caldarella of the Brigham Young University and colleagues spent three years monitoring 151 classes with a total of 2,536 students from 19 elementary schools across the US states of Missouri, Tennessee and Utah.

Pupils taking part in the study ranged from 5–12 years of age — or, in other words, from kindergarten to sixth grade.

The researchers found that the students focused for up to 20–30 per cent longer when teachers were specially tasked with keeping track of the relative number of praising and reprimanding statements that they made to the class.

This focus included engaging with such class activities as attending to what the teacher was saying or working on assigned tasks.

‘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,’ noted Dr Caldarella.

This, he added, ‘can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behaviour.’

‘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.’

‘Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behaviour reached 60 per cent.’

‘However, if teachers could increase their praise-to-reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom.’

'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,' noted Dr Caldarella (stock image)

‘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,’ noted Dr Caldarella (stock image)

In the study, half of the classrooms that the researchers observed followed a behavioural intervention programme called Class-Wide Function-related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT).

In this programme, students are told about the social skills which they are expected to exhibit during lesson times — and are then praised or rewarded for doing so.

The team noted that the benefits offered by teachers improving their praise-to-reprimand ratios existed across both classes run under the CW-FIT programme and those where teachers used their typical classroom management practices.   

'Everyone values being praised and recognised for their endeavours — it is a huge part of nurturing children's self-esteem and confidence,' Dr Caldarella said (stock image)

‘Everyone values being praised and recognised for their endeavours — it is a huge part of nurturing children’s self-esteem and confidence,’ Dr Caldarella said (stock image)

Previous studies have reported a link between the time that students spend paying attention in class to their overall academic achievement.

This would suggest that — by improving focus — praise could in turn help to boost learning and bring up children’s grades. 

‘Everyone values being praised and recognised for their endeavours — it is a huge part of nurturing children’s self-esteem and confidence,’ Dr Caldarella added.

‘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.’

However, the researchers also stressed that sound instructional techniques and other evidence-based classroom management strategies are also required in order to maintain student attention. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Educational Psychology.

 



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