Why praise is key to effective classroom management, from Karl Pupé.

Nobody likes being criticised. If you want to encourage your students practise praising them instead. This works very well on every kind of student because most people respond very well to encouragement. So why is praising your students important? Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Your students will feel valued and appreciated
  • It creates a positive environment for your classroom
  • It helps students to build confidence

But… there is a catch: If you think that praising people is merely ‘brown-nosing,’ then you are sadly mistaken. If you enter a toilet, you can instantly smell if someone has done a number two before you walk in, in the same way that your students will know that you are being fake. When you are praising your students, here are a couple of tips to make sure that you don’t enter used-car salesperson territory.

Authentic praise

Praise them for their effort not their ability

Studies have shown that if you praise your students based on only their ability i.e “You are so good at Maths” or “You’re a natural athlete” you demotivate your students because they will become fearful and anxious about mistakes causing them to lose their ‘label.’ As we all know, mistakes are an unavoidable part of learning and something we should embrace rather than fear. Dr Carol Dweck suggests that we should use something called ‘process praise’ instead. Dweck writes that this type of praise, “conveys to students that they can develop their abilities and it suggests how this can be done. We find that it makes children more likely to want challenging work and to persist when the work gets more difficult.” 1 Make sure you comment on their effort and focus i.e. “You worked really hard to pass this Maths paper, well done!”

Know what types of praise that your different students respond to

Once you get to know your students, you will know what they respond positively to and what they don’t like so much. Praise them in the style they prefer, for example, some may respond well when they are praised privately rather than in front of the class.

Praise them quickly and get to the point

In my personal experience, if you do a song and dance when you praise your students, this could lose its effect and embarrass them. Keep it tight and short.

The ‘feedback sandwich’

So, praise is great but… does that mean that we should never correct our students? Do we just tell them about marshmallows, fluffy things and little bunny rabbits? Not quite. If necessary, praise can even be used to challenge. My personal go-to for this is the ‘feedback sandwich.’ (I know there is another name for this, but you all know why I can’t use it here!)

The ‘feedback sandwich’ model is as follows: When critiquing your student’s work, this model requires that you highlight a positive element on what they did right, then look at the area to improve (what they did wrong) and then end it with another positive aspect.

Positive (bread)John, I love the way that used metaphors and similes in your creative writing task and your story was really engaging.
Area to improve (filling)Your work would be even better if we just made sure that we are using the correct punctuation and double-checking our spellings as well.
Positive (bread)Overall, you have written three sides of work and I can see that you’ve worked very hard on this. Great work!

 

What is great about this model is that your student not only hears criticism but also an acknowledgement of the things that they have done right as well, so it keeps their motivation levels high. Also, the fact that you share something positive shows that you have some consideration for their feelings.

How to use the ‘feedback sandwich’ after a flashpoint situation

During a flashpoint situation, the ‘feedback sandwich’ will not work. However, it can be useful after the incident has taken place and be used as part of a restorative meeting. I will give you another example: Two Year 10 male students had a pushing match in your classroom and had to be removed by another teacher. You handled the flashpoint, the sanctions were given and now you want to do some form of restorative meeting with the boy who started the fight. If there are still any issues or ‘beefs’, try to give the students time to air their grievances and really listen to their concerns. Once you have passed that hurdle, you can use the ‘Feedback Sandwich’ to deliver your follow-up conversation about the behaviour.

Positive (bread)First of all, I want to say well done for calming yourself down, explaining the situation in a calm manner and apologising for the disruption you caused. That is appreciated.
Area to improve (filling)As we both agreed, this argument in the classroom should not have happened. This disrupted the learning and you missed out on really important revision that would have helped you in the exam. Because of that, [ X sanction]. If there is a problem, you need to speak to me.
Positive (bread)Max, I have taught you for a long time and I know how good you can be in the class. I know how disciplined, focused and polite you are with everyone around you, and I know that you can return to that level. I have faith that we can put this behind us and have a better lesson tomorrow.

 

In this feedback sandwich, you may have noticed that there is more ‘meat between your buns’ – this is because you had an issue that needed to be addressed. However, rather than the lesson ending on a sour note and the student feeling dejected, you followed up with the last ‘bun’ planting the seeds of a better lesson next time.

References

1. Carol Dweck. 2016. ‘Praise the effort, not the outcome? Think again’. TES [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/praise-effort-not-outcome-thinkagain. [Accessed 4 March 2022]..

Author

  • Karl C. Pupé

    Karl C. Pupé FRSA is a qualified classroom teacher with over decade's experience in the education sector. He is also the author of the award-winning book 'The Action Hero Teacher: Classroom Management Made Simple' and founder of the Action Hero Teacher.
    twitter icon LinkedIn icon Instagram icon Website icon

    View all posts