Praising pupils ‘can be harmful’


Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

It is often said that a little encouragement goes a long way, but a new study suggests that lavishing praise on pupils is unlikely to help them improve in the classroom.

Instead, there is a risk that it can leave youngsters feeling that their teacher had low expectations of them in the first place.

Praising students is one of several popular methods used by teachers that are not backed up by evidence, according to a report by the Sutton Trust.

Others include allowing children to discover important ideas by themselves and grouping students by ability for lessons.

It indicates that the two factors that make the biggest difference to boosting pupils’ results are simply the quality of teaching they receive and the teacher’s subject knowledge.

The study, by Durham University, is based on a review of more than 200 pieces of research on how to develop good teachers.

It concludes that heaping praise on pupils is often seen as positive, but studies show that, used the wrong way, it can be harmful to children’s learning.

Praise which is meant to be encouraging and protective of low-achieving students can give a message of the teacher’s low expectations, the report found.

The evidence also shows that if children are congratulated for performing well on an easy task, they can see this as proof that a teacher has low expectations of their ability. In some cases, if children are criticised for doing badly in a project, they can take this as an indication that their teacher believes in their abilities.

Researchers also found there is little evidence that grouping students by ability, either by putting students in different classes, or separating them within lessons, makes a difference to their results.

And it suggests that encouraging pupils to re-read and highlight key information to memorise ideas has little impact.

Other common teaching methods that are unlikely to improve results include “discovery learning” in which pupils find out ideas for themselves, attempting to boost pupils’ motivation before teaching a lesson, and presenting children with information in their own preferred learning style.

The study says there are some teaching methods that have been shown to be useful, such as challenging pupils to identify the reason why they are doing an activity in a lesson, the teacher asking many questions and checking the answers of all students, and making youngsters take tests or give answers even before they have been taught the information.

Teachers with strong subject knowledge and understanding make a bigger impact on students’ learning, making this one of the key ways of improving results. The other is the quality of teaching, which includes good assessment of pupils’ work.

This backs up previous research by the Sutton Trust which found that over a school year, poorer pupils gain 1.5 years-worth of learning with a very good teacher, compared to 0.5 years with a weak one.

Professor Robert Coe of Durham University said: ” Great teaching cannot be achieved by following a recipe, but there are some clear pointers in the research to approaches that are most likely to be effective, and to others, sometimes quite popular, that are not. Teachers need to understand why, when and how a particular approach is likely to enhance students’ learning and be given time and support to embed it in their practice.

“Given the complexity of teaching, it is surprisingly difficult for anyone watching a teacher to judge how effectively students are learning. We all think we can do it, but the research evidence shows that we can’t. Anyone who wants to judge the quality of teaching needs to be very cautious.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “The NUT notes that the authors of this report have argued that effective teaching cannot be achieved by following a recipe. Teachers are all too familiar with the fads and fashions regularly promoted as the latest ‘formula’ to improve teaching and learning, only to see them debunked and replaced by some other magic solution shortly afterwards.

“The fact is that teachers themselves are the professionals that best know their children and their students. They should be trusted to organise their classrooms, employ effective behaviour-management strategies and plan, teach and assess in a way that best promotes pupils’ learning.”

Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Local business search