To improve behavior in class, teachers should focus on praising children for good behavior, rather than telling them off for being disruptive, according to a new study published in Educational Psychology.

Children focused on tasks up to 20% to 30% more when teachers were required to consider the number of praise statements given, compared to the number of reprimands.

The study lead by Dr Paul Caldarella, at Brigham Young University, involved a research team that sat in 151 classes, in 19 elementary schools across Missouri, Tennessee and Utah.

The study showed that the more teachers praised and the less that they scolded, the more students attended to the teacher, or worked on assigned tasks.

"Unfortunately, previous research has shown that teachers often tend to reprimand students for problem behavior as much or more than they praise pupils for appropriate behavior, which can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behavior," says Dr Caldarella, from the David O. McKay School of Education at Brigham Young.

"Praise is a form of teacher feedback, and students need that feedback to understand what behavior is expected of them, and what behavior is valued by teachers.

"Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students' on-task behavior reached 60%. However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom."

The results suggest that praise is a powerful tool in a teacher's arsenal, inspiring students to work harder -- particularly those difficult to reach children who may struggle academically or be disruptive in class. 

"Everyone values being praised and recognised for their endeavors -- it is a huge part of nurturing children's self-esteem and confidence," Dr Caldarella adds.

Although the study shows that praise plays an important role in boosting student's focus in class, the researchers are keen to stress that sound instructional techniques and other evidence-based classroom management strategies must also be used to maintain children's attention.

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