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Praise, Not Scolding, Can Lead to Better Classroom Behavior

A new study finds that to improve behavior in class, teachers should focus on praising children for good behavior, rather than telling them off for being disruptive. Researchers from Brigham Young University led the study which involved observing 2,536 students, across three U.S. states, from kindergarten age through to sixth grade (5 to 12 years of age).

In half of the classrooms, teachers followed a behavioral intervention program 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.

The study showed a relationship between the ratio of praise to reprimands (PRR) used by the teachers and the extent students focused on class activities.

In other words, the more teachers praised and the less that they scolded, the more students attended to the teacher, or worked on assigned tasks.

The difference in approach was greatest in classes where the PRR was highest. In this setting, students spent 20-30 percent longer focusing on the teacher or task compared to those in classes where the praise to reprimand ratio was lowest.

This relationship was present across both CW-FIT and ordinary classes.

“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 leader Dr. Paul Caldarella.

“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.

“Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behavior reached 60%. However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom.”

The results suggest that praise is a powerful tool in a teacher’s arsenal, inspiring students to work harder, particularly those difficult-to-reach children who may struggle academically or be disruptive in class. Previous studies have shown a clear link between the time spent by students attending to lessons and their academic achievement, suggesting that praise could boost learning and improve children’s grades too.

“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.”

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

Source: Taylor & Francis Group/EurekAlert

Praise, Not Scolding, Can Lead to Better Classroom Behavior

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Praise, Not Scolding, Can Lead to Better Classroom Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jan 2020 (Originally: 30 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jan 2020
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