Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Teachers who have the best managed classrooms are those who spend the first two weeks of class teaching and practicing their procedures and routines.” – Michael Mills, Effective Classroom Management: An Interactive Textbook
“Only praise that places no judgments on a student’s character or personality makes the classroom a safe place in which students are free to try and to make mistakes.” – Carlette Jackson Hardin
“Effective classroom discipline… should be a means of helping students become caring, ethical individuals.” – Carlette Jackson Hardin
How can we motivate and encourage our students to study harder and be involved in their school life? You have probably asked this question yourself many times. One of the easiest and most effective strategies for inspiring and motivating your students is praising them. When teachers use praise correctly and wisely, they are able to achieve many things. First, praise can help teachers deal with the problematic behaviours of their students as well as enhance their students’ overall motivation.
Again, the most important thing that teachers should remember when giving praise to their students is that praise should be given correctly – in the right form and at the right time. When we praise our students on a regular basis, we build strong and productive relations with them.
Let’s see in what ways is praise beneficial when it comes to classroom management.
- First of all, using praise is free. It literally does not cost you anything. As opposed to other types of things that you can use to reward certain behaviours, you do not have to spend any of your money. There are teachers who do prefer to buy extrinsic rewards such as chips or sweets for their students. But despite the fact that it may seem like something that won’t put a significant strain on your budget if you do that every day you will see that buying these things is quite expensive. And praise does not cost you anything.
- If you use praise in your classroom you save time too. Indeed, as opposed to praise, it may take teachers some time to come up with new forms of providing extrinsic enforcers and rewards for their children.
So what are the ways of praising that may be regarded as unproductive? When we praise students but not their actions we are doing it wrong. So try to avoid phrases such as “you are very good at this”, “you are very smart and clever”, “you have a big talent” and so on. Instead of praising students themselves, teachers should focus on their actions. This will actually help your students get a clearer idea of what you expect from them and what kind of behaviour will be rewarded. So try these phrases: “The way you have conducted that experiment was very clear”, “You handled the task very well and your approach was very ground-breaking” etc.
- Strive to make your praise more personal. The more personal your praise is, the less likely it is that your student will think that this is something you will say to every student. Again, concentrate on what your students have done rather than their personalities.
- Be specific. Now, this requires further explanation. Many teachers are guilty of praising their students in a meaningless and even superficial way. We all sometimes say: “Well done!” or “Good job!” to our students, not realizing this praise and feedback are not actually useful. But our praise does not need to be limited to these thoughtless statements.
So next time when you want to praise your student start with an “I”. For example: “I always appreciate it when you come to class on time” or “I always look forward to hearing your opinion”. Such feedback is personalized by nature – it is specific and addressed the students’ actions rather than their personalities.
Or you can give even more effective praise – by giving it and explaining why it is important. For example, “You have raised your hand to answer the question, this shows that you respect everyone in the class. You are not interrupting anyone and this is also a sign of respect”.
Try to focus on academic behaviours when giving feedback. For example, when praising your students try to praise them for making an effort, for their ability to set goals, and for their perseverance. “I know that the homework I gave you last Monday was very difficult and I can see that you have done every task assigned. I really appreciate your hard work.”
Encourage students to praise each other. Researchers specializing in education have discovered that students actually appreciate the praise coming from their classmates. Unlike the feedback coming from teachers, they prefer feedback in the form of gestures – such as high five.
Do not overdo it. Praise must be deserved. Yes, being praised enhances our self-esteem and motivates us. And yes, as I have pointed out earlier, good praise will do that. But effusive over-praising is not going to help you or your students. In fact, if you over-praise your students they will lose their motivation. One of my fellow teachers once told me that there was a time when she would praise her students even if they produced incoherent, unsatisfactory answers. The intention behind that was to make students try harder. But one day it dawned upon her that she was actually doing a great disservice to her students and herself. Being used to her praise, they just took it for granted. They were not motivated anymore. They simply became lazy and unresponsive.
After realizing that she was demotivating her students, she did some research on how to praise students effectively and changed her strategy. She started praising them only for their engagement, resilience, and determination to overcome difficulties. She no longer gives her students cheap praise. If her students want to be praised, they must earn it.
Cheap praise is especially counter-productive when we are dealing with older students. They are usually better able to differentiate between truthful feedback and feedback that was not earned. So learn from my friend’s mistakes and avoid them in your teaching practice.
Praise your students in a subtle way without attracting too much attention to the fact that they are being praised. While praising students in front of their class may indeed be pleasant for them and may even stimulate some other students to try and behave correctly in order to be praised, there are some downsides with this approach. Chances are that loud and showy praising may encourage unhealthy competition among students. Furthermore, when we are praising students in front of the class, our praise may feel insincere. So make an effort to praise your students privately – this will feel more personal and meaningful.
So if you are thinking of praising students for their achievements it is certainly a good idea, which will help you build and improve rapport with your students. However, as you have probably learned from our article, you need to use praise wisely and carefully. Just like other classroom management techniques, praise has its advantages and disadvantages.
We need to remember that today’s young people are craving attention (which explains their growing dependence on social media) and that is why praise can be an effective tool for classroom management. But it is important to refrain from lavishing praise on students for every smallest accomplishment or insignificant input.
Teachers should praise their students for their continuing hard work and perseverance. Teachers should also refrain from superficial and meaningless phrases like “Nice” and “Well done” because in the end, they will feel monotonous, and students will simply no longer feel motivated. Last but not least, try to avoid over-praising your students. Yes, avoiding over-praising may require more experience (and it will probably come with more experience). But just remember that praise is something that your students need to deserve and only those who have worked or are working hard enough should get it. If you are interested in more advice from our facilitators on how to improve your classroom management and make the most out of your teaching career, check out our latest Shiminly articles and become an expert teacher too!
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.