Start the New Year Positively by Using Praise in the Classroom

Much has been written, discussed, and debated about using praise in the classroom. Some people believe that students are praised too much, leading to lowered expectations and decreased internal motivation. On the other hand, some evidence suggests students do not receive the type of praise they need to be successful at school. As a teacher, how can you make sense of this contradictory information to decide how you want to support student learning? This is a complicated and difficult question indeed! While every school, classroom, teacher, and student is different, there are ways to use praise to encourage positive development and learning. Here are a few tips that we find helpful.

    • Match praise to effort. Teachers do not need to praise every positive behavior they see. In fact, overusing praise can quickly decrease its effectiveness and meaningfulness. Praise is most impactful when it is used to recognize a student’s significant effort or success on a difficult task. For example, if you know a student who typically struggles to maintain attention during lesson worked hard to follow along you might let her know by saying, “Great job having your eyes on me and a quiet voice the whole time! I really appreciate your hard work”. When deciding whether a student’s efforts are deserving of your praise, it is important to remember that each student possesses different strengths and faces different challenges. Therefore, by getting to know each student’s unique abilities, you can effectively tailor praise to support their learning and development.
    • Provide specific praise to improve learning. Labeled praise is more effective at helping students learn and use new skills than non-specific praise. Instead of using an ambiguous statement such as “Nice job”, you can make praise more specific by saying “Nice job raising your hand and waiting to be called on”. Clearly pointing out a student’s positive efforts, skills, and behaviors will help him remember and demonstrate them again.
    • Praise a student’s efforts, not her innate abilities. It is important to focus praise on a student’s learning process and effort versus her innate ability. For example, instead of saying “Great job on this assignment! You’re so smart!”, praise the student’s effort with phrases like “You worked really hard on this assignment. Way to go!” By praising this student’s hard work and effort, teachers are letting her know she can be successful again in the future when tackling a challenging task. What a great way to build self-efficacy and self-esteem, as well as increase motivation! When teachers praise effort, they are encouraging students to work hard and take on challenges that promote learning in school and beyond.
    • Match praise to student preferences. All teachers know that each student has a unique personality and preferences. Therefore, to be most effective, teachers should utilize a variety of types of praise. Some students may be most motivated by subtle and private praise, such as a well-timed wink, head nod, or smile. You could even try providing a hard working student with a fun note recognizing his effort. Other students may enjoy more public forms of praise, such as a “shout out” in front of the class. One of the best things about praise is that it can be individualized to meet a wide variety of student and teacher styles. So be creative! Pay attention to what encourages and motivates each of your students.
    • Praise what you want to see more of. Praise the skills, behaviors, and efforts you want to see more of in your students. Instead of spending your time telling students what not to do by saying things like “Stop yelling”, “Don’t run”, or “No talking”, try spending time recognizing the things you want to see. Let your students know they have your positive attention by taking time to praise their successes. You can say “Thanks for using your quiet voice” or “I really like that you have walking feet”. Spending your time encouraging positive student behavior feels better to both you and your students. It also helps teachers develop warm and supportive relationships with students that promote growth and learning across time.

Praise is a great way for teachers to encourage positive growth in students while also helping students develop a sense of appreciation for their own efforts and accomplishments! Praise helps students master classroom expectations and academic skills. It also encourages them to stick with difficult tasks and can improve self-esteem. Overall, using effective praise with your students can help them start the new year off right!

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