Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Grading/Praise

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To Praise or Not Praise? Tricky Question

by Jennifer Peace

Learning Targets[edit | edit source]

  • To understand the definition of praise
  • To understand the pros and cons of using praise
  • To understand how to use praise effectively in the classroom

Introduction: What is praise?[edit | edit source]

Many teachers may concur that a productive classroom is one filled with encouragement, positivity, and praise. However, many educators are unaware of the negative effects of praise or are unskilled at praising students effectively.

Praise is defined as the "expression of approval, commendation, or admiration" (The Freedictionary). Usually, praise is given to a student upon completion of a task (Driscoll and Hitz 3). Praise goes beyond telling a student if they are right or wrong by expressing "positive teacher affect (surprise, delight, excitement) and/or placing the students behavior in context by giving information about its value or its implications about the students status" (Brophy 5). For example, it a student answers a question correctly, instead of simply telling the student they are correct, the teacher may say "Nice!" or "Yes, smart!" Essentially, a praise statement is a value judgement the teacher makes of the student.

Pros and Cons of Using Praise[edit | edit source]

Using rewards, both tangible and verbal, is a common practice in classrooms, and teachers have found success using praise as a reinforcer. In his article, "Teacher's Praise: A Functional Analysis," Jere Brophy states that "praise allows a direct statement of the contingency between the behavior and the the very act of praising, teachers can identify the specific behaviors they are trying to reinforce" (7). Essentially, praise is valuable because the teacher is able to explicitly highlight the specific desired behavior.

Additionally, praise has been deemed more effective than tangible rewards when the goal is to encourage motivation. In fact, "the more abstract and symbolic forms of reward are, the more powerful they are" (Marzano, et al. 57). While it is still unclear why praise works better than tanglible rewards, it is apparent that praise can be useful in the classroom. However, according to Brophy, "the fact that praise can function as a reinforcer does not mean that it always or usually does" (Brophy 7).

Researchers are now suggesting that there are many weaknesses with praise, and that it sometimes can be more detrimental than beneficial. While the purpose of praise is to increase self esteem, often it can deplete it. When a teacher praises a student for a mundane task, the student may feel as though the teacher did not think he/she was capable of performing successfully. Also, praises like, "Great!" and "Nice!" make students feel as though they must always live up to that standard. Thus, praise discourages students from taking risks and speaking out because they fear failure (Driscoll & Hitz).

Additionally, praise is not always productive. According to Driscoll and Hitz, praise is only useful when the student cares what the teacher thinks of him. While at a young age a student might crave a teacher's approval, as the child ages this becomes less and less the case. Therefore, praises like, "Smart answer!" and "You're a genius!" only work for students who need their intelligence to be affirmed (1989). Along a related vein, when teachers use "empty" praises, or praise all students using the exact same phrase for every task completed, the praise becomes worthless; the student does not feel special or significant because the praise is general or universal and not unique (Driscoll & Hitz).

Finally, using praise as a classroom management strategy can in fact be counterproductive because it is based on manipulation. Many teachers use the behavior of a student to redirect those who are off task. For example, a teacher may say, "I like how Billy is reading his book!" or "Look how nicely Sara is sitting on the carpet with her legs criss crossed." These statements encourage conformity and will undoubtedly be met with defiance (Driscoll and Hitz). In the end, no one likes being controlled and manipulated.

Effective Praise: A How-to Guide[edit | edit source]

Despite the research suggesting that praise can be detrimental, when used effectively, praise can be advantageous. The key, according to Driscoll and Hitz in their article, "Praise in the Classroom", is to replace empty or overblown praise with statements of encouragement which "refers to a positive acknowledgement response that focuses on student's efforts or specific attributes of work completed. Unlike praise, encouragement does not place judgement on student work or give information regarding its value or implications of student status" (2009).

Effecive praise statements are those that are not exaggerated or insincere, but allow the teacher to acknowledge a student's answer and show appreciation for the student's level of effort. For example, if a student answers correctly or incorrectly, a simple "Yes, thank you" or "No, the answer is B" works to "inform the student without adding distracting emotions" (Hermin & Toth). Also, a more effective form of praise is to take the focus off of judging the student and instead place it on showing appreciation. According to Hermin and Toth in "Responding to Student Comments and Using Praise Effectively," in many situations, "I" statements work better than "you" statements. For example, instead of saying, "Awsome answer Jay! Your answer was really genius!" which "carries the tone of one person judging another," the teacher could say, "I really appreciate how well you answered that question, Jay!" This allows the teacher to "merely communicate honest, personal appreciation. It is an honest statement, not a mechanical platitude, certainly not an empty exaggeration" (2009).

"I was amazed at how empty my praise had become. So often I felt vaguely dishonest. Yet, I, too was addicted to praise. It wasn't easy to break the habit. I'm getting a non praise habit, but slowly. I mainly ask opinion questions and respond with thank you's. I'm surprised how easy the shift was on students. I put the following list on my desk, and that is helping me
  • Honest Appreciatives: Thank you.
  • Plain corrects: Yes.
  • Plain incorrects: No, the answer is...
  • Spontaneous Delights: Truly felt compliments
  • Praise and Rewards for All: The group did well today.
-Tom Clarence, High School History Teacher extracted from Inspiring Active Learning (Harmin & Toth)


Example Analysis[edit | edit source]

A teacher is preparing her students for the final benchmark before SOL tests. She is really trying to concentrate on getting those students who are below average and afraid of participating to speak up. She singles out one of these students to answer a question, and he gives the incorrect response. The teacher says, "The correct answer is internal conflict but that was a good risk to take on your part" and continues on to the next review question.

This is an example of an informal assessment in a classroom where the teacher is trying to determine what concepts have been mastered and which need more review time. It shows a teacher using effective praise to maintain confidence among students and encourage participation.

This is an example of effective praise because, when the student answers incorrecly, the teacher provides the correct answer and shows her appreciation for the student's bravery. The teacher has managed to take the focus off of the incorrect answer and place it on the students risk taking. Therefore, the student does not dwell on the incorrect answer, but is instead left with the confidence to try again. The student is not made to feel foolish for giving an answer that was incorrect, inferior by having another student answer the question when he could not, or weak by having the teacher give him hint after hint until the teacher practically provides the answer for him.

Conclusion: My thoughts[edit | edit source]

As with any other classroom strategy, the use of praise has its benefits as well as its weaknesses. However, if teachers use praise appropriately, there can be a positive response from the students.

Today's youth are starving for attention and will engage in positive or even negative behavior to attain it. I feel it is important for teachers to recognize the diligence and worth of their students on a consistent basis. Students must feel as though they are important and appreciated in order to constructively contribute to the classroom. To send this message, teachers should not simply dole out praise over any minimal achievement or use the same statement of praise for every task. This cookie cutter form of recognition fails to focalize on the individual worth and uniqueness of each student.

Instead, it is important for teachers to praise students by encouraging them to continue working hard and doing their best. For example, teachers should make an effort to recognize when students are working on a difficult task and commend their perseverance. Everything a child does should not be "Great!" or "Nice!" because eventually the phrase becomes monotonous and is not task specific. Essentially, praise should encourage the student to feel competent and appreciative of their own effort.

Multiple Choice[edit | edit source]

1. What is praise?

a. an expression of approval or admiration

b. a phrase used only when students pass a test

c. a phrase used by teachers to let students know they are upset

d. a tangible reward

2. What is one argument against using praise?

a. It can hurt students' feelings.

b. It can lower self esteem.

c. It only works when students like the teacher.

d. It only encourages motivation.

3. Mrs. Lease notices that several students are not on task and, in order to get them on task, says, "I really like how Sam is working on the problems and not talking to his neighbor." Based on what you know about using praise effectively, how do you think Sam's classmates will react?

a. They will immediately stop talking and work on their problems.

b. They will feel resentment towards Sam and continue talking.

c. They will ask for forgiveness from Mrs. Lease.

d. They will give Sam a high five on the playground.

4. A student provides the correct answer and the teacher responds with, "Yes, thank you. That was the answer I was looking for." Is this an example of effective praise?

a. No, the teacher is not specific enough.

b. No, the teacher does not tell the student how he feels about her level of intelligence.

c. Yes, the teacher judges the answer without judging the student.

d. Yes, the teacher makes the student feel smarter than the rest of the class.


1. a

2. b

3. b

4. c

References[edit | edit source]

Brophy, Jere. (1981). Teacher praise: A functional analysis. Review of Educational Research,51,(1),5. Retrieved February 8, 2009 from

Driscoll, A. & Hitz, R. (1989). Praise in the classroom. Retrieved February 7, 2009 from

The FreeDictionary (2009). Retrieved March 19, 2009 from

Harman, M. & Toth, M. (1994). Inspiring Active Learning: A Handbook for Teachers. Ch. 20 Responding to student comments and using praise appropriately. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. & Pickering, D, & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.