Teachers looking to see an improvement in their students’ behavior and focus should offer as much praise as possible, a new study says.
Educators have long been advised to employ either a 3:1 or 4:1 praise-to-reprimand ratio, according to the study, which was published Wednesday in the Educational Psychology journal by researchers at Brigham Young University.
But changing that ratio and praising students for good behavior could help them see further boosts in the classroom, as the study found that students’ focus on tasks increased up to 30 percent when they were praised by their teachers.
“Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behavior reached 60%,” lead author Paul Caldarella told CNN. “However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom.”
Researchers said they spent three years collecting data from 19 different elementary schools across Missouri, Tennessee and Utah, looking at 2,536 students from 151 different classrooms.
Half of those classrooms were used as controls, and the teachers taught as normal, while the other half followed a program called “Class-Wide Function-related Intervention Teams,” where students were praised and rewarded for good behavior.
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The study defined praise as “verbal indication of approval following student behavior more than acknowledging a correct response.” For example, “Well done class, you all followed directions and got in line quietly!”
Reprimands, meanwhile, were defined as “verbal disapproval including a threat or scolding in response to inappropriate behavior, or instruction that the behavior must stop,” like, “Kevin, I told you to stop throwing paper.”
Previous studies have shown elementary school teachers tend to reprimand more than they praise their students, and that as the kids get older, praise becomes less common and reprimands more common.
But adjusting that could help students focus better on their lessons and stay focused, the study suggested.
“When kids receive praise, it activates certain feel-good chemicals in the brain. These chemicals can enhance functioning in the parts of the brain that are responsible for things like focus, attention, planning and problem-solving,” Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told Good Morning America.
Conversely, “when punishment is used, it can activate the part of the brain responsible for fear. When fear responses are activated, the chemicals released can actually cloud the parts of the brain that are needed for focus,” Chaudhary said.