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 Jan. 29 in the journal Educational Psychology.
“Unfortunately, previous research has shown that teachers often tend to reprimand students for problem behavior as much or more than they praise pupils for appropriate behavior, which can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behavior,” 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 behavior is expected of them, and what behavior is valued by teachers,” he noted in a journal news release.
Even when teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behavior 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.
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 recognized for their endeavors — it is a huge part of nurturing children’s self-esteem and confidence,” Caldarella said.
“Also, from a behavioral perspective, behavior that is reinforced tends to increase — so if teachers are praising students for good behavior — such as attending to the teacher, asking for help appropriately, etc. — it stands to reason that this behavior will increase, and learning will improve,” he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on school.