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New study from BYU shows praise from teachers has huge impact on children

(Photo by Nate Edwards, provided by BYU)

PROVO – A new study from BYU shows there is an effective way for elementary school teachers to get their students to engage in class… be nicer.  Researchers say they found a direct correlation between a student’s engagement in the classroom and the number of compliments they receive.

Researchers at BYU, Vanderbilt and the University of Kansas observed teachers in 151 classes in 19 schools across Utah, Missouri and Tennessee.  They measured how many compliments a teacher gave and compared that to the amount of reprimands and developed something they call a “praise to reprimand ratio,” or PRR.

“The higher that ratio was, the more praise they gave and the fewer reprimands they gave, the better the student’s behavior was,” says lead author Paul Caldarella.

If a teacher’s PRR was equal on both sides, classroom engagement reached around 60 percent.  However, Caldarella says engagement became noticeably higher when the ratio reached 2:1, and reached nearly 70 percent with a 3:1 ratio.

Of course, there will be times when a teacher has to reprimand a child, but, Caldarella says it’s important that they follow that up with praise as quickly as possible.

“Whatever we reinforce, we tend to see more of that behavior,” he says.

Caldarella says they’re working on other studies to determine how effective negative comments are on children.  He says their initial findings show they might not have any positive benefit, at all.  Even worse, he believes a teacher may accidentally be reinforcing bad behavior with constant reprimands.

“If a student is not getting any interaction with the teacher and the only time they get an interaction is when they do something wrong, they may interpret that as actually better than being ignored by the teachers,” according to Caldarella.

The study was published in Educational Psychology.