June 8, 2020

In what ways can praise and reinforcement promote positive behaviour in the classroom?


Challenging behaviour is a major obstacle to learning and has a detrimental effect on achievement, but managing behaviour positively can help to reduce the stress level of both pupils and staff, creating a much more calm and pleasant atmosphere for learning, thus creating a safe environment, a climate to enable and promote progress. According to Ginott (1975), who was a school teacher, a child psychologist, psychotherapist and a parent educator, the teacher is the decisive element in the classroom:

‘It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humble or humour, hurt or heal. In all sets, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be exacerbated or de-escalated – a child humanised or de-humanised.’

(Ginott, 1975: 22)

In this passage, Ginott makes the point that the teacher has full control of what happens in the classroom and it is how we teachers deal with the situation that leads to the result. Yet, behaviour management remains a highly topical issue in education today and while most would agree that praise and reward contribute to a more positive classroom atmosphere and learning environment, the balance between the use of praise and punishment appears inconsistent among teachers, leaving one unsure of when and how often bad behaviour should be reprimanded and when instead one should commend pupil behaviour. It is a question of balance. An article published by The University of Pittsburgh carries the view that, ‘using praise to help correct inappropriate behaviour can be just as effective as using punishment. […] Correcting inappropriate behaviour and punishing a child is sometimes necessary, but you should balance out punishment by giving at least an equal amount of praise.’ (University of Pittsburgh, 2000.) American research cited by Merrett & Wheldall (1987) suggested that overall the general level of positive and negative teacher feedback is low, although teachers provide more negative feedback compared to positive feedback (Strain et al., 1983).

It is, of course, important to remember that there are many strategies to conquer challenging behaviour and each strategy contributes to how pupils react. A teacher who rewards and praises frequently may get a totally different response from a student to a teacher who uses reprimand as the primary strategy. It is a question of balancing out the punishment of the bad behaviour with the praise of the good behaviour. However, one must acknowledge that there is not one single teaching method and behaviour management strategy that will suit all pupils. Research conducted by the DfES (2001:16) has proven that teaching tailor-made lessons to support the needs of every learner is ineffective, as it does not reach out to all learners; ignores the needs of individuals, often leaving learners unchallenged, bored or confused. Moreover, there is not one single teaching technique that is successful for all learners in all situations. (DfES, 2001:16). Geoff James, who writes in The Guardian, (2013), makes the point that schools very often have separate behaviour and learning policies and it is time to explore a more joined-up approach. He claims that, ‘when children have behavioral difficulties, we see this as sufficiently different that we have separate learning and behaviour policies in schools, as if a child’s behaviour isn’t an aspect of their learning. The usual approach to the problem of behaviour is to take control and direct children, to make them change, gradually stepping up the pressure if they don’t respond.’ (Geoff James, The Guardian, 2013.) This had led me to believe that positive behaviour and meaningful learning are intrinsically linked and should be considered essentially as one entity, in which behaviour has an impact on the efficacy and progress of children’s learning. Perhaps, one of the key messages here is how teachers praise pupils. Many teachers are opting to reward pupils with sweets and chocolates, which is not only having a negative impact on the child’s diet and is contributing negatively to the growing obesity rate, but according to a report published in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), it is not sweets and chocolates that pupils wish to be rewarded with. ‘When we survey pupils about the rewards they actually want, it’s not money, sweets or iPods, but in both primaries and secondaries the number one reward is consistently a positive phone call to parents.’ (Paul Dix, TES, October 2008.)

It is clear that this way to reward and praise pupils has resulted in much more positive behaviour; thus creating a more encouraging environment for learning and progress to take place.