A study recently published in the journal Educational Psychology found that elementary teachers who use praise instead of punishments experience better-behaved students in the classroom, according to CNN.
Paul Caldarella — a professor in the Brigham Young University’s counseling, psychology, and special education department, and lead author of the study — studied 19 elementary school classrooms in the states of Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah. The research team studied a total of 2,536 students between the ages of 5 and 12, and observed teacher-student interactions.
In half of the classrooms studied, educators were instructed to teach as they normally would, while in the other half, teachers were told to implement a behavioral intervention program called CW-FIT, which stands for “Class-Wide Function-related Intervention Teams.”
The behavioral program, first implemented in 2005, provides teachers with strategies on how to better handle problem behavior in the classroom. It first teaches social skills through the use of role-playing, discussion and repetition, then moves on to teacher-implemented groups within the class. Students who display positive social behaviors are praised, while teams that meet a pre-established goal are also generously praised.
Caldarella’s team found that educators who implemented the CW-FIT program saw better-engaged students and fewer disruptive behaviors in the classroom. In fact, the more praise given by the teacher, the more improvement in student cooperation and attention during tasks. Teachers who rewarded students with as much praise as possible saw a 30 percent increase in positive behavior.
The scientist acknowledges that some reprimand is necessary in a classroom setting and does not suggest that instructors do not use this method to interrupt harmful and disruptive behavior. However, he recommends that a 3:1 or 4:1 praise-to-reprimand ratio is best. For every one reprimand, a teacher should be giving three or four positive reinforcements.
The lead researcher commented on the study’s results.
“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.”
Caldarella recommends that parents try to seek out teachers that use positive reinforcement techniques in their classroom. If this is not possible, parents can share the results of studies such as this one to help educators adopt a more praise-based instead of punishment-based teaching style.
“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.”