By Teachers, For Teachers
An obvious fact that we’re all aware of as teachers is that a student, when recognized for positive behavior, will feel less inclined to seek attention in inappropriate ways. Conversely, when a pupil’s efforts are ignored, the chances of them disrupting the lesson to gain some attention are greatly increased.
Young people need reassurance and encouragement if they are to continue to behave appropriately.
The problem we have, as teachers, is that we are told to give out praise as much as possible and that the solution to all our problems lies simply in repeatedly telling pupils how well they are doing. We consequently find ourselves uttering the same tired, weak, comments such as ‘well done’, ‘that’s really good!’ and ‘I like that’.
But these comments are a waste of time in terms of encouraging pupils – they are just too wishy-washy. Praise must be sincere otherwise it is just hollow, worthless and patronizing.
If we want to improve the behavior of pupils in our care we need to fully recognize their individual efforts. Unless we praise effectively the associated benefits will be lost.
The following two tips will help you deliver praise more effectively and thereby reduce disruption in your classroom:
1) When you give verbal praise to a child – make them really feel it.
When you praise a child you make them feel your appreciation by telling them exactly WHAT they did and WHY it was good.
True praise comes from genuinely noticing when they put effort into something or have managed to complete something they wouldn’t normally manage. When you give thoughtful attention to a student's work like this work it demonstrates that you recognize their work or improved behavior. Such deep appreciation builds self-esteem and encourages continued progress.
“Paul, stand back and look at what you’ve done… this is a fantastic portrait! What really impresses me is the way you’ve made that eye come to life by showing the light reflecting here. That really makes it come alive!”
Now, doesn’t that sound better than a wishy-washy statement such as “Very good Paul”?
Similarly, when a troublesome child is behaving appropriately, this must be acknowledged.
“John I’m so impressed. You’ve sat quietly for the last 10 minutes and got on with your work. That’s great because I’ve been able to go and help other pupils and I haven’t needed to shout at you. Well done!”
2) Send letters home to praise your pupils effectively…
Don't underestimate the power of the letter home as a form of praise and effective behavior management tool. This has such a positive impact on students – I only wish I’d started doing it earlier in my career.
Sending a nice letter home can transform a previously negative child – literally overnight – into one who is motivated and eager to please. This is also one method that works well even with older pupils – right up to age 16 and beyond. It is also very effective for pupils who don’t accept public praise very well – a letter home means their mates will never find out!
Letters home can be ‘quick-notes’ or more formal, traditional letters on school headed paper. You can send out simple postcards for odd pieces of particularly good work or award ‘extra special’ letters in response to sustained effort such as after a pupil has earned 5 stickers (younger pupils) or 5 merits (older pupils).
Generic letters are very insincere so the best way to organize your praise letters for speed and ease is to have two copies of your letter ready written in a file on your computer – one for girls and one for boys. It’s then just a matter of filling in the name, printing it out on headed paper and either giving it to the pupil to take home or posting it.
It is time-consuming producing letters and copying them onto headed paper but it definitely has a tremendous impact on individuals as well as helping create a positive classroom atmosphere.
About the Author: Rob Johnson is the author of Magic Classroom Management – How to get the most from the worst kids in school. He is Deputy Head Teacher at a special school in the UK and has been working with challenging young people for 15 years. http://www.classroom-management.org
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