Praise seems such an obvious part of a teacher’s role that it is often overlooked. However, like all tools the use of praise does need constant practice and planning in order for it to become a positive habit. With care, its use can be a highly effective intervention that supports young people with social, emotional or mental health needs as well as benefitting all pupils.
This is a re-blog post originally posted by Simon Lynch and published with kind permission.
All schools encourage staff to praise children and have formal rewards schemes in place. This guide will focus on the use of praise in the classroom, but the principles highlighted below are important to consider when devising or reviewing existing systems.
Before describing a handful of specific types of praise, it is important to explain why praise should form a fundamental part of a teacher’s ‘toolkit’. Our brains form connections in response to what those around us are doing. These pathways are built very quickly in early infancy as children become attached to their primary care giver. The connections continue to be formed throughout childhood and during adolescence there is another period of rapid extension of the pathways. Throughout its development, the brain prefers existing neural pathways to developing new connections. The brain also prefers to make positive connections that bring a reward rather than developing a pathway that leads to harm. All of this psychology therefore reveals that a consistently positive experience is likely to engender a positive relationship and attitude. Of course, many pupils have not had positive experiences in early infancy so it is harder to develop or embed strong, positive neural pathways. However, the effective use of praise can be an important tool to strengthen or create connections that lead to more desirable, positive behaviours. Below are six simple strategies to support adults in schools make best use of the praise they employ.
· 3:1 ratio. For every criticism they make, adults provide to pupils three specific, targeted examples of praise.
· Proximal praise. Adults deliberately and specifically praise those pupils who are displaying desired behaviours, especially when in the proximity of those displaying undesirable behaviour.
· Positive reinforcement. Adults specifically mention the behaviours they observe which are desired and praise the pupils who display them.
· Academic and social. Adults employ praise equally for social and learning behaviours as they do for academic or subject related matters.
· Praise in public. Adults emphasise positive behaviours publicly, yet provide criticism privately.
· Growth mindset. Adults praise effort, process and progress of learning rather than only the final outcome of learning (e.g. the final test result).
This is of course not an exhaustive list and is designed as a reminder of tools that commonly have high impact for limited input. Like all tools, they do require practice and repetition to embed them.
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