To praise or not to praise?

Well done

How to use praise effectively in the classroom

There’s no question that praise is a good thing in the classroom, but over-used it can become ineffective and demotivating. As a new teacher, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-using praise. Praise is the natural way to recognise your students for their endeavours. There’s no doubt praise is essential for growing confidence and boosting self-esteem.

But, excessive use of praise can deem it disingenuous. In an article written for The Guardian, English teacher and blogger, Jamie Thom, said “As an NQT, I was guilty of effusive over-praising. I wanted students to try hard and I wanted them to see that I cared about their efforts, so I resorted to what seemed like an easy win: praise, praise and more praise. Superlatives were tossed around like cheap confetti in response to even the most incoherent of grunted answers. Then one afternoon the reality struck: my obsession with praise was making my students lazy and unresponsive.”

Praise needs to be thoughtfully handed out. Here are 4 ways to use praise with appropriate effect in the classroom:

1 – Praise effort where it is due

Praise should be used to recognise engagement, improvement and perseverance. Acknowledge your pupils who have demonstrated hard work and overcome difficulties, regardless of their intellect. Praise effort and accomplishment, not ability.

2 – Give specific feedback

Specific feedback will endorse the legitimacy of the praise you are giving, and allow students to develop more understanding about the skills they need for future tasks. Specific praise helps children to become more reflective.

Simply stating ‘good job’ doesn’t give students exact feedback about what they are doing well. ‘Wow, you found some great sources for writing that poem, good job’ lets the student know why he or she is receiving the praise, and enables them to be confident in using those skills in future tasks.

3 – Highlight good behaviour

Highlighting good behaviour is an essential teaching tool, especially in challenging groups. Praising good behaviour will also have a positive impact on other students. Recognise pupils when they are striving to achieve good behaviour, but be mindful to set standards high. It’s not generally effective to praise pupils with challenging behaviour for achieving simple everyday tasks, such as getting their pen out.

4 – Consider individuality and what motivates each of your students

Empathy and sensitivity towards your pupils will guide you to understand what it is that motivates each of them. Some students will love public acknowledgement of their efforts, while others will find that embarrassing. Find ways to praise your students appropriately according to personalities. Praise can be given in a private conversation or in written feedback, as well as verbally in front of the whole class.

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