Praise children more and they’ll concentrate better in school, research has revealed. When teachers praise students for good behaviour, and limit the number of reprimands, children focus on the task at hand up to 30 per cent more.

Over three years, researchers from Brigham Young University observed 151 classes in three US states, a total of 2,536 students between the ages of 5 to 12. Half of the classes observed followed a behavioural teaching programme called CW-FIT, where students are told what is expected of them before a lesson and commended when acting appropriately.

The number of praises given was counted, as was the number of reprimands. Comments such as “Well done class, you all followed directions!” were considered as praise. Threats, scolding and repeating instructions counted as reprimands, for example: “Kevin, I told you to stop throwing paper.”

“Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students' on-task behaviour reached 60 per cent,” said Dr Paul Caldarella, who led the study. “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 study built on previous research that found teachers reprimand students as much, if not more often, as they praise them. This has a negative effect on behaviour in the classroom. Furthermore, as students get older, the amount of praise they get from teachers tends to decrease, while the number of reprimands increases.

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

“From a behavioural perspective, behaviour that is reinforced tends to increase. So, if teachers are praising students for good behaviour it stands to reason that this behaviour will increase, and learning will improve.”

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Amy ArthurEditorial Assistant, BBC Science Focus

Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.