If you’ve been teaching for any amount of time, you know that students need encouragement. Praise is an essential part of that, but not all praise is effective, and some types of praise can actually do more harm than good. Here are some dos and don’ts for giving your students praise that will help them in the short and long term:
Do praise effort. As a teacher, your goal is to increase your students’ skills, but it’s critical that you nurture their belief that their intelligence and abilities can be improved. So, when giving praise, rule number one is to praise effort, not end result. Stanford researcher Carol Dweck has been studying motivation among children and adults for over four decades, and she says that praising children for effort leads to stamina and resilience more so than praising intelligence or abilities.
Don’t praise achievements or traits. It’s important that teachers focus praise on the aspects that are within a student’s control. Congratulating a student for being smart or good at math does not acknowledge the hard work that it took to earn those accolades. The message to send is that effort is to be admired and that achievements do not come easily, no matter who you are.
Do use praise to encourage good classroom behavior. Praise can work wonders when it comes to reinforcing good behaviors and discouraging bad ones. A recent study in Educational Psychology led by Paul Caldarella from Brigham Young University found in a study of 2,536 students between ages 5 and 12 a positive, linear relationship between a higher teacher praise-to-reprimand ratio and stronger on-task behavior among students.
Don’t withhold praise while waiting for perfection. Everyone makes mistakes, which is how students grow and learn. It’s good for you to encourage your students to persevere when things don’t go their way and learn from their missteps. That’s part of the process and the best way for students to practice and hone different learning strategies and skills.
Do be specific. Specific praise of a student’s habits, processes, hard work, attitude, or similar things can affect how students feel about their own successes or failures. Such recognition can teach your students that they are in control of the outcomes they do or don’t achieve and help them make connections to which actions lead to success. So, instead of, “Great job getting that A on the assignment,” you might try, “I can see you put a lot of thought and time into this, which is why you earned an A.”
Don’t give praise for the sake of giving praise. Praise is best delivered when it is deserved. In other words, make note of when students go the extra mile or show grit when attempting difficult problems or tasks. But don’t inflate praise just to make a student feel good, as the lack of sincerity will show, and ultimately, the comments will be ineffective.
Praise is an excellent tool that can boost students’ motivation and self-esteem and encourage them to embrace a growth mindset, which is when students believe that they can increase their intelligence through their own efforts. Use it in your teaching strategies and you will notice a positive effect.