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Giving praise to learners

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An important aspect of teaching is knowing how and when to praise learners for their behaviour and work. Using praise correctly provides learners with positive reinforcement and can motivate them to learn and participate in lessons. A new study throws light on the subject of praise in classrooms.

Ellen Darling

A common belief about praising learners is that praise should be given privately, based on the idea that learners may feel embarrassed about being praised publicly, but there is no research evidence to suggest that this is true. A recent study has made comparisons between 'loud' or public praise and 'quiet' or private praise in secondary schools and has revealed some interesting findings.

John Blaze, a psychologist at The University of Southern Mississippi, compared the effect of both types of praise on behaviour in state school classes in the United States in maths and English classes. The teachers were trained in how to give praise. For example, praise needed to depend on good behaviour, be specific as to why the student was praised and given immediately. The main conclusion from the study was that praise had a dramatic positive effect on learners' behaviour and it didn't matter whether the praise was private or public.

The debate on when and how to praise continues and many questions remain unanswered. For example, does the way praise is received vary in different cultures? Does it depend on the learners' age? How often should teachers give praise? However, it is clear that specific, timely feedback can improve behaviour significantly.

Click here to read more about the study.

Click here to read Katherine Bilsborough's latest TeachingEnglish blog entry on 'Building confidence through praise'.