Praising Good Behavior in the Classroom Works Better Than Correcting Disruption
A timely finding, given recent reports of extreme corporal punishment in schools.
New research into classroom management strategies has found that focusing on and praising positive behavior among students, rather than correcting disruptions, encourages kids to behave well and concentrate. It’s the latest in a growing body of evidence that has found positive discipline goes farther toward changing kids’ behavior than punishing their bad behavior.
The finding feels particularly well-timed, given the spate of reports on corporal punishment in Indian schools, which are only creating more problems by responding in such a way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that praising positive behavior as a means of classroom management also improved students’ mental health — another pertinent finding, given recent haphazard efforts by the government to do the same and reports that mental health disorders, especially conduct disorder, are now a leading cause of childhood illness.
The study, led by Tamsin Ford, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Exeter Medical School, and published in the journal Psychological Medicine, analysed the success of a training programme called the Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management Programme. The Incredible Years® focuses on helping teachers ignore low-level bad behaviour that often disrupts classrooms, in favor of relationship building, age-appropriate motivation, proactive management of unwanted behaviour and acknowledging good behaviour.
“Our findings suggest that this training potentially improves all children’s mental health but it’s particularly exciting to see the larger benefit on the children who were initially struggling,” Ford says. “These effects might be larger were this training offered to all teachers and teaching assistants. Let’s remember that training one teacher potentially benefits every child that they subsequently teach. Our study offers evidence that we should explore this training further as a whole school approach.”
Ford’s team assessed the success of positive discipline via questionnaires completed by teachers, parents and children. They also considered academic attainment, and use of national health and social services. In addition, lessons were randomly observed in a quarter of participating schools.
Ford’s team notes that in addition to benefits to children, positive discipline was liked by teachers, who found it useful.
“Praise is an essential aspect of the training and ‘proximity praise’ has been a really effective tool. By finding and describing the sort of behaviour you desire, you can bring a change in those who are off-task while simultaneously ignoring them,” reflects Sam Scudder, a teacher at Withycombe Raleigh School in Exmouth, Great Britain, who underwent the training. “Of course there are some behaviours you can’t ignore, but the focus is around really celebrating the kids who exhibit the behaviour you want: those who are quietly listening, yet are often overlooked in classrooms. It has a ripple-effect as more children copy that conduct.”