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Sometimes as a teacher, situations can arise where it can be difficult to determine whether to use praise or punishment to motivate pupils. But research reported in the Times today could reveal secrets to behaviour improvement.

Threats and punishments may be important tools for teachers, but a new study by Educational Psychology has found that 80% of pupils respond to increased praise – which could mean a change to how we attempt to mend behaviour issues in schools.

When do you use praise and punishment to motivate pupils? Do you have examples of where praise has been effective?

How to help a child with behaviour problems at school

The research suggests focus and listening improve when pupils are complimented for good behaviour.

This study of 2,536 children in the United States, conducted by Brigham University, Utah, found that when praise was used, pupil concentration increased on the lesson or task they were completing.

The study measured the number of praise statements teachers provided, compared to the number of reprimands, and measured outcomes on a praise-to-reprimand ratio (PRR). In the classes with the highest PR, pupils paid attention for 20-30% longer than in those classes where PRR was the lowest.

Lead Researcher, Paul Caldarella, said: 

Unfortunately, previous research has shown that teachers often tend to reprimand students for problem behaviour as much or more than they praise pupils for appropriate behaviour. This can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behaviour.

Praise is a form of teacher feedback, and students need that feedback to understand what behaviour is expected of them, and what behaviour is valued by teachers.

Can reprimanding pupils still lead to behaviour improvement?

The Department for Education’s behaviour tsar, Tom Bennett, added that there was a balance to be had between praise and discipline.

Mild sanctions also have their place in classroom management strategies. It is a mistake to think it’s either/or – good practice involves multiple strategies, for multiple effect.

Praise too, can be done well and less well. Too much praise reduces its value, insincere praise is obvious to children; blanket praise or vague praise has little or no impact. The devil, as ever, remains in the detail.

Strategies for behaviour problems in the classroom

According to Crisis Prevention, the key to dealing with behaviour problems in the classroom is to use a proactive strategy for preventing bad behaviour occurring in the first instance. But when problems do occur, here are five top tips in dealing with it:

  1. Always maintain self-control: When a student directly challenges a teacher in front of the rest of the class, it is essential to maintain control in the heat of the moment. Emotional outbursts or anger are both unprofessional, and it can result in loss of respect from your students.
  2. Keep calm: When faced with challenging behaviour or disrespect do not immediately react. It is important that pupils are not shown how to trigger an overreaction from you, as this can lead to further problems down the line. It is also important to remember that students tend to “stick together” during challenges.
  3. Wait calmly and silently: The next step is to wait calmly while you assume a supportive stance (i.e. standing to the side, in a non-confrontational manner). This stance often solves the problem without teachers having to say a word. Teachers can later address the student’s response in their own time (e.g. break-time when it is inconvenient for the student).
  4.  Use defuses: A simple one or two word response can quickly defuse challenging behaviours, such as “I understand”, “I’m sorry” or “Nevertheless”. This means the teacher can continue teaching without interruption. Later, at the teacher’s convenience, the student can be pulled aside and spoken to, and receive a consequence if appropriate.
  5. Add rewards: If a student is bothering other students, it may be that you need to rethink the seating arrangement of the class. However, if the student is causing distribution to the class to avoid doing work, it is worth teaching the child positive skills or adding a reward like a “get out of homework pass”.

How can EDLounge help to improve behaviour?

EDLounge has a proven record of improving behaviour, attendance and achievement in pupils.

Initially designed to prevent 34 students from being permanently excluded during a school term in 2008, our software means students have access to 11,000 lessons, as well as teacher support, so that they can improve subject knowledge, engagement to learning and efficiency. Our online alternative provision has been inspected by OFSTED and safeguarding of pupils is our number one priority.

We have also created a number of behaviour repair work sessions for students which are effective at improving behaviour. The behaviour lessons have been assembled so that they address OFSTED’s requirements for behaviour work.

Book a demonstration

Jason Kennedy, Associate Headteacher of Featherstone Academy, said:

Students of this day of age often prefer to interact via technology and they almost don’t feel like they are learning and they don’t feel like it is school work, because of how it is set up and how they engage with it.

I cannot recommend EDLounge Ltd highly enough in terms of how it has supported the behaviour transformation at the Featherstone Academy, and I would willingly endorse it to any other educational establishment in the country that are looking to make a difference to their school’s behaviour and overall school culture.

You can book a demonstration of EDLounge here. Alternatively, you can read more testimonials here.

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