Sunday, March 24, 2013

Teacher Praises: Powerful Student Motivator

Finals week. Students sit and review notes by the hallway. 

What motivates students to learn? This might be one of the questions running on a teacher’s mind- just like me. I do not believe in scolding as a way to improve student performance or gain respect. Though I have been and still a student myself, I am wondering what my students think of me or whether or not they find me a motivating teacher. There are many things that motivate students to learn. I will talk about the thing I utilize in my classes that keep college kids smiling all throughout the class- the use of praise.

Teacher praise is one powerful motivator for students. Surprisingly, research suggests that praise is underused in both general- and special-education classrooms (Brophy, 1981; Hawkins & Heflin, 2011; Kern, 2007). Effective teacher praise consists of two elements: (1) a description of noteworthy student academic performance or general behavior, and (2) a signal of teacher approval (Brophy, 1981; Burnett, 2001). I once had a set of students who never seem to listen or are talking in my composition class. As a result, when I made them write based on the concepts of my lecture, they failed to follow. What I did was to go around the classroom, monitoring students’ works, offered help and made myself available to provide suggestions. When I got the papers for checking, I called the inattentive students to my desk, and told them they have the potential and can do even better. That was followed by frequent praises in front of the class. The result? They took teacher praise seriously and became good writers. Now, they are in their senior year, writing their thesis by themselves.

Laughter in the classroom. Comfortable students learn easily. 
Teacher praise: Make the most out of it
Teacher praise is as powerful as it changes student behavior by indicating teacher approval and informing the student that his/her academic performance or behavior conforms to teacher expectations (Burnett, 2001).

Recognize your students’ behavior. Teacher praise like “Good job!” on your students’ essays may be of good intention but it isn’t enough. Instead, expand with a more specific behavioral element like “Good job! You have written a good thesis statement and you supported it well. ” 'Good job!' is inadequate because it lacks a behavioral description (Hawkins & Heflin, 2011). This, when heard by the class members, can boost confidence and make students motivated enough to do better.

Take a break! Future criminologists smile for the camera.

It’s not only about ability but effort and accomplishment. There is some evidence that praise statements about general ability can actually reduce student appetite for risk-taking (Burnett, 2001). In most cases, we may find ourselves telling or marking students’ work with a praise that goes, “You are certainly an excellent student. You don’t have difficulty doing this task.” Experts say, however, we must give praises with specific focus on efforts and accomplishments exhibited. Instead of the previous statement, why not praise student like, “You obviously planned your topic well and supported it with realistic examples. Keep it up!”  Researchers say that when teacher praises are focused on exertion of effort and quality of work produced, students are given hints that they should invest time and hard work to get the job done. This will later result to teacher praise being a tool for improved academic or behavioral performance.

Best shot. Students performing English dialogues.

What are your students’ praise preferences? Though praises can be viewed as a worthy motivator, this should be done based on your learner’s preferred way. This can be delivered in a variety of ways and even contexts. A teacher may give praise to the student in front of the class or privately through marking student’s work with motivating feedbacks. When possible, this should adhere to your student’s individual preference for praise. It is worth noting that, while most students in elementary grades may easily accept public praise, evidence suggests that middle and high-school students actually prefer private praise (Burnett, 2001). When dealing with older students, it is safe to deliver praise in private rather than in public.
Let 'em be. Giving students what they want after a hard day! 

Praise, one of the most powerful motivating tools the teacher can use, can encourage students in many different aspects like improved output and academic performance. When done properly and with sincerity, this can inspire and motivate students to push themselves to become academically excellent and well-performing. I use that for my college kids, and mind you, even my professor uses that on our graduate school outputs and academic work. Why be stingy with teacher praise?