Education

Using this tool effectively, teachers can improve learning outcomes and influence positive behaviour in students

Parvathy Jayakrishnan
Using this tool effectively, teachers can improve learning outcomes and influence positive behaviour in students

The role that teachers play in a student’s life is immense and important. In kindergarten, the teacher is the first adult a student interacts with on a day to day basis after spending all the time with a parent(s). Kindergarten teachers are literally like a mother or father away from home for these toddlers and they start building so much trust. Every little deed or positive reinforcement that the teacher does in class makes a huge impact on the mind of the student. Hence, it is important that teachers become a true role model for their students.

It is the responsibility of a teacher to help students differentiate right from wrong and to enable them to make the right choices. Our teachers are constantly caught in between correcting wrongdoings of their children and appreciating their positive qualities. A teacher who appreciates a student who has performed well or who has done a good deed will boost the morale of the student in front of the whole class. It is important to highlight the good done by a student in front of the class as it will serve as an example for the rest of the class too. Private praise to a student can be effective too. Also, simple gestures like looking at the student in the eye, giving a smile while delivering praise can have a greater impact on the student than the words spoken.

However excessive praise is not the way to go. For example, if a teacher uses “Well done! David” or “Way to go, Amit, Give me a hi-five” or “Amazing work! Ameena, I’m blown away” very often in the classroom, it lowers expectations, it won't be meaningful to students and it won't change behaviour. False praise lowers the standard of what is good and it gives students an inflated sense of their own abilities. For praise to be most effective, it must be meaningful to the student. It is important to praise a student for the effort rather than the result. A student who works hard or tries hard every time should be encouraged to do it more and this can impact learning outcomes positively. It is also important to praise a student who goes out of the way to help a classmate.

Specifically, students whose teachers praise effort and work strategies rather than praising intelligence will put in more effort when something is difficult, seek challenges, set higher goals for themselves and look at failure as an opportunity to learn.

For younger children, teachers can reward good behaviour with a “star” or a sticker.

Even written praise is a private and effective way of conveying a compliment.

Here are some dos and don'ts when it comes to praise:

Do's:

●          Notice students' good efforts and strategies and praise them.

●          Be specific about the praised behaviours and reinforce this behaviour with your feedback.

●          Use praise to link the outcomes of an assignment to students' efforts. Speak explicitly and in detail about the strategies a student has used. Comment on which strategies were helpful, and which were not.

●          Ask a student to explain his or her work to you.

Don'ts:

●          Don't offer praise for trivial accomplishments or weak efforts.

●          Don't inflate praise, particularly for students with low self-esteem.

●          Don't let a student feel ashamed of learning difficulties. Instead, treat each challenge as an opportunity for learning. Don't ever say, "You are so smart" in response to good work. Instead, praise the work a student has done (e.g., "Your argument is very clear" or "Your homework is very accurate").

●          Don't comfort students following a failure by telling them that not everyone can be good at everything.

When students believe that intelligence can be increased through their own efforts, good strategies and help from others (called the "growth mindset"), it leads to increased effort and the desire to seek out challenges. The growth mindset is associated with the development of self-efficacy and resilience, which are important in all facets of life. Because those with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence can be developed, they show increased resilience in the face of difficulties and setbacks. All of this leads to higher academic achievement. This is in contrast to the fixed mindset where a student believes that his intelligence is fixed and unchangeable.

Here are some examples of good praise:

            I can see your hard work on this assignment.

            You have not quit even with this tough problem.

            Keep using your strategies! You’re making good progress!

            You have really grown… (in these areas).

            I can see a difference in your work compared to yesterday.

In all the above examples, the praise is for a specific achievement and it is conveyed to the student rather than a generic statement like “Good job!” or “Nice work!. This increases the value of the praise given and tells the student exactly what he is doing right.

For praise to be most effective, teachers can use the following guidelines:

1.         Notice the effort by the student.

2.         Make eye contact with the student.

3.         Smile. Be sincere and enthusiastic.

4.         Deliver praise to students in proximity, especially at the secondary level.

5.         Prepare for praise by deciding what to say that is specific to the task.

6.         Describe the behaviour you want to reinforce conveying how you feel about it with specific comments like, "Your thoughts were well organised in this essay."

7.         Keep records of successful efforts and praise so you can make connections in future assignments.

Most importantly, do not combine praise with criticism. To keep praise separate from criticism, avoid using the word "but" immediately after a compliment.

Often teachers do not use the power of praise to empower their students or often they do not know how to deliver effective praise. By using this tool effectively, teachers can improve learning outcomes and influence positive behaviour in students and make the classroom a better place.

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