Praise can have negative effect if used inappropriately

Test GradeEvery teacher knows that praise is a great motivator. However, even the use of praise in the classroom has pitfalls, according to Daniel T. Willingham, who reviews research on the effect of praise on students in a recent issue of American Educator.

To be effective, praise should be sincere, not used to try to control the student, and should not focus on ability or effort but on the process that went into doing the work, the author concludes. Praise that attempts to control the student’s behavior can be counterproductive. In a study of third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who completed word-search puzzles, researchers found that praise with a controlling statement actually had a demotivating effect on students.

When some students were told: “Good. Keep it up. I would like you to do even better on the next game,” they said they found the puzzles less interesting than children who received no feedback . When ‘keep it up’ is added, research shows “the student is more likely to think, “I’m doing these puzzles because the teacher wants me to, not because I enjoy them.'”

If a student who often does not complete his work submits a completed project, a teacher might be tempted to praise the work even if it is poor or mediocre, to encourage the student to make more effort. But when students get unearned praise, they interpret it as meaning that the teacher doesn’t believe they are capable of better work. It would be better for the teacher to say,

“It’s great that you finished the assignment, but I’m a little disappointed in the quality of this work because I know you can do better,” the author says.

Praising ability can also be counterproductive, the article warns. “If adults praise what the children are (such as ‘smart’), they attribute their success to a fixed character that they possess,” the author writes. When the student encounters difficulty, the child who has been praised for ability or for being smart may seek to maintain the “intelligent label” and will sacrifice learning to looking smart.Teachers should praise the process that the student has applied in doing the work–effort is just one facet of this process. The student might also be praised for using good strategies or for having good concentration and developing a good plan.

For complete article go to
“How Praise Can Motivate–or Stifle” American Educator Winter 2005-2006.

Published in ERN January 2006 Volume 19 Number 1

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