Guidelines For Using Praise & Feedback To Motivate Your Students

People produce good results when they feel good about themselves. Correctly implementing praise in the classroom can be a powerful motivational device. Feedback is a necessary ingredient for motivating and increasing student learning. What follows are some practical guidelines for effectively using praise and feedback in the classroom. 

1. Use Positive, Specific & Genuine Praise Statements.

Effective praise statements provide genuine, positive, specific and meaningful details to students about their effort, behavior and accomplishments (Tennessee Department of Education, 2012; Wright, 2012). A common expression used by teachers is “Good Job!”  “Good Job,” in and of itself is an ineffective praise statement because the phrase does not provide the student with feedback of what they did well. This statement becomes more meaningful when it is accompanied with an explanation relative to the students effort, behavior and/or accomplishments (Wright, 2012). For example, “It's obvious from your grade that you worked hard to prepare for this test. Great Job!" 

2. Praise Effort & Accomplishment, Not Ability!

Praise statement can be a powerful motivational tool when the phrase centers on specific examples of student effort, accomplishment, and behavior. Research indicates praise statements consisting of general assumptions relative to a student’s ability or intelligence reduces student motivation. Avoid praise statements that focus on intelligence or ability such as , “I can tell from your work that math is no problem for you!”  Instead, praise student effort, accomplishment and behavior and avoid praising students based upon broad assumptions of student intelligence (Tennessee Department of Education, 2012; Wright, 2012). 

3. Avoid Right or Wrong. Use Correct, Incorrect.  

It is also important to respond to student comments and/or answers appropriately. Avoid using words that tend to be judgmental, such statements usually include words such as, ”Right,” or “Wrong.” It is best to reply to a students comment or answer with a straightforward response like “Correct,”  or “Incorrect” (Harmin & Toth, 2006). 

4. Be Careful When Combining Praise with Feedback.

Teachers need to provide students with feedback especially when they are learning new skills. According to Johnson and Jenkins (2004) book “Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion,” praise should never be followed with feedback. If you do, from then on, whenever students hear [feedback] from you (no matter how sincere), the student will not listen to the praise statement, because they are waiting for the words, ...but... (Johnson & Jenkins, 2004). Alternatively, it is more effective to provide your students with feedback first, followed by a genuine, positive and specific praise statement. I have used this technique with my middle school band students. For example, I might say, “students from measure 35-46 we began to rush the rhythms, but despite this mistake we recovered the tempo at measure 47. Good Job! Now lets go back and work on correcting measures 35-46.” In this example, the teacher provides the students with specific feedback first, “... from measure 35-46 we began to rush the rhythms....” and then gives the students praise relating to their effort,”...but despite this mistake we recovered the tempo at measure 47. Good Job!... I have found by providing students with feedback in this way helps to increase student motivation to learn. According to Johnson and Jenkins (2004), a result of inserting praise last and not first, increases the likelihood students will perceive our feedback as being genuine.  

References

Harmin, M., & Toth, M. (2006). Inspiring active learning a complete handbook for today's teachers (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved September 7, 2015 from http://www.ascd.org

Tennessee Department of Education. (2014). Behavior specific praise in the classroom. Retrieved September 7, 2015 from http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu

Thompson, G., & Jenkins, J. (2004). Verbal judo: The gentle art of persuasion. (Rev. ed.).  New York: Quill.

Wright, J. (2012). Teacher Praise: An efficient tool to motivate students. Retrieved September 7, 2015 from http://www.interventioncentral.org