Praise, don’t punish: Findings of new US study - Education Matters
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Praise, don’t punish: Study shows positivity can boost student focus

Study student focus - praise don't punish

A new US study has found that praising a student for good behaviours rather than scolding them for disruptive behaviours can provide a major boost to their levels of focus and improve classroom behaviour.

The results of the study, released on 29 January 2020, emerged from observing over 2500 students (between 5 and 12 years of age) across three US states over three years.

The children were shown to focus on tasks up to 20 to 30 per cent more when teachers were required to consider the number of praise statements given, compared to the number of reprimands.

The study was led by Dr Paul Caldarella from Brigham Young University in Utah and involved a research team that sat in 151 classes, in 19 elementary schools across Missouri, Tennessee and Utah.

In half of the classrooms, teachers followed a behavioural intervention programme called CW-FIT, where students are told about the social skills they are expected to show in lessons and rewarded for doing so. In the other half of the classes, teachers used their typical classroom management practices.

Expert on behaviour and behaviour support in an educational setting, Dr Erin Leif of Monash University, highlighted the importance of the new study.

“Should children today be raised on praise? New research says yes,” she said. “In their recent study, Caldarella and colleagues add to a growing body of research on proactive and positive classroom behaviour management by showing the beneficial effects of praise for improving student behaviour.

“The authors draw on theory and research in education, positive behaviour support and applied behaviour analysis to inform the design of the study, and demonstrate that teachers can improve academic engagement in the classroom by explicitly teaching and richly reinforcing desirable social, emotional, and behavioural skills.

Although the study shows that praise plays an important role in boosting student’s focus in class, the researchers also stressed that sound instructional techniques and other evidence-based classroom management strategies must also be used to maintain children’s attention.

Associate Professor in Educational Psychology Dr Penny Van Bergen of Macquarie University echoed this view. “There’s two important things to note in this study. First, the authors were looking for some kind of ‘tipping point’, or optimal level of praise relative to reprimands. Instead, of a tipping point, they simply found the more praise the better,” she said.

“Second, frequent praise doesn’t mean that teachers should not ever reprimand. Sometimes, when students have stepped over a line, reprimands may be needed. But what the findings do clearly show is that more frequent praising is worthwhile.”