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Praise works better than detention, study shows

Detentions, lines and harsh tellings-off are less effective for controlling unruly pupils than praise for work well done, a new study has revealed.

A group of teachers was instructed to look for and reward good behaviour during lessons. They were also encouraged to acknowledge when pupils had completed a task asked of them.

Whenever they upbraided pupils for bad behaviour, teachers were told to indicate clearly what conduct was expected instead. Observing the results, Jeremy Swinson and Alex Harrop, of Liverpool John Moores university, claim that the effect was immediate and dramatic.

They said: "It is probable that this change, more than any other, resulted in the pupils becoming better behaved, and as a result were told off less."

The proportion of pupils on-task during lessons rose from 77 per cent to 94 per cent. Similarly, the need for classroom admonishment dropped from 46 per cent to 15 per cent. On average, only 4 per cent of teachers'

positive feedback is directed at pupils' behaviour. By contrast, behaviour claims 29 per cent of negative feedback.

Dr Swinson said: "If you praise kids who are doing what you want, you're sending the message that the way to get approval is by following instructions."

Teachers from five primaries in north-west England parti-cipated in the research project. Seven secondary teachers from one comprehensive also took part.

The authors now believe that the skills provided during their training session should be offered to all teachers during their initial teacher-training course.

Jenny Moseley, a Wiltshire-based behaviour consultant, says many training courses already include such techniques. But she believes that, to be successfully implemented, they require a whole-school commitment.

"It's hard for teachers to ignore the bad and focus on the good," she said.

"It takes a lot of energy. If staff talk negatively to each other, it's hard to be positive in the classroom."

a.harrop@hrjm.ac.uk. More debate on behaviour on www.tes.co.uk

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