What the experts say...
According to Otero, Tiffany L. Otero and Haunt, Jillian M. Haunt’s study on the Differential Effects of Reinforcement on the Self-Monitoring of On-Task Behavior:
One way to ensure the best learning environment outcome is to encourage our learners through positive reinforcement. Students learn to self monitor themselves, manage their time, set goals, and self-evaluate through the reinforcement of the teacher(s).
Academic engagement is a strong predictor of academic performance. The more students are engaged in the instruction, the more students will further their success. It is a well-known fact that academic engagement is linked to better study skills, academic productivity, and essential behavior for a functioning classroom.
An example of encouraging learners through positive reinforcement can be found in the US study led by Dr. Paul Caldarella. Here, a research team from Brigham Young University spent three years observing 2,536 students (aged 5 to 12-years-old) from 151 classes, across 19 schools in three different states. The data collected from the study showed that children focused on tasks by up to 30% more when teachers used statements of praise.
The effects of positively recognising achievements at school - for entire classes and individuals - are further outlined by the Department for Education and Skills. In their Key Stage 3 National Strategy Behaviour and Attendance Strand Rewards Toolkit, which focuses on the everyday policies of rewards and sanctions to promote positive behaviour, it states:
Rewards contribute to the overall policy on behaviour and attendance because they help to build and maintain positive relationships between staff and pupils and between all pupils; make the school experience more enjoyable for pupils and all staff; encourage pupils to repeat the desirable behaviours that earned the rewards; contribute to pupils’ self-esteem and confidence in the system.
Positive consequences are likely to encourage pupils to repeat the associated behaviour. Systems that emphasise praise for positive behaviour or regular attendance are more effective in motivating pupils to make appropriate choices. These appropriate choices contribute to a positive ethos in the school thereby creating an environment for effective teaching and learning.
An important factor to consider is that the impact of recognising achievements is dependent on the kind of praise children are receiving. The School Run highlights one study concerning two groups of children that were given problem solving tasks, as discussed by Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential:
On completion, one group was told they must be very clever, the other group that they had worked very hard. The kids who had been told they had worked hard were happy to try another puzzle, the other group weren’t. There was too much to lose if they didn’t do so well. So it is how we praise and reward that is important.
The results appear to be dependant on how praise and rewards are positioned in an intrinsic context - which is presented in the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) ‘Improving Education in Schools - Guidance Report’ :
Teachers can use tangible techniques such as rewards and sanctions, or less tangible strategies such as praise and criticism, to improve motivation, behaviour, and learning. However, it is intrinsic motivation, or self-motivation, that is crucial to improving resilience, achieving goals, and ultimately is the key determiner to success. Children who are intrinsically motivated achieve better and are less likely to misbehave.
Schools can involve parents, guardians and caregivers too. This is a highly beneficial approach to improve student wellbeing during remote learning situations. The EEF Guidance Report also refers to bridging the gap between school and home to strengthen praise and positive recognition:
Promising approaches involve parents and teachers setting goals for their child, agreeing and implementing specific strategies that can be implemented at home and school to help their child’s behaviour, responding consistently to children’s behaviour, and gathering information to assess their child’s progress.