New research shows that as student praise increases, compared to reprimands they receive, so does their productivity in the classroom.
Teacher works with student
Photo by Nate Edwards

The number of times a teacher compliments or recognizes a student’s good behavior, compared to how often the teacher reprimands the student, the more likely that student is going to stay focused on the task at hand.

Researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Kansas and Vanderbilt University have found that if teachers focus on praising their students for appropriate classroom behavior, rather than reprimanding them for being disruptive, it will improve their behavior in class. Or in the words of the researchers, the higher the teachers’ praise-to-reprimand ratio (PRR), the higher the students’ on-task behavior percentage.

“Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behavior reached 60%,” said Paul Caldarella, a professor at BYU’s McKay School of Education and lead author of 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.”

Researchers spent three years observing 2,536 students, from kindergarten through sixth grade (5 to 12 years of age). The research team sat in 151 classes, from 19 elementary schools in Missouri, Tennessee and Utah.

The team observed the frequency with which the teachers would praise and reprimand the students in each classroom.

For the purposes of the study, praise was defined as verbal indication of approval following student behavior, more than acknowledging a correct response. Reprimand was defined as verbal disapproval (including a threat or scolding) in response to inappropriate behavior or instruction that the behavior must stop.

The difference was such that children in classes where the PRR was highest, the pupils spent 20–30% longer focusing on the teacher or task compared to those in classes where the praise to reprimand ratio was lowest.

“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,” Caldarella said.

The paper suggests teachers can use these findings to help improve students’ behavior in the classroom and to keep kids focused on the task at hand.

“Behavior that is reinforced tends to increase, so if teachers are praising students for good behavior – such as attending to the teacher, asking for help appropriately, etc. – it stands to reason that this behavior will increase, and learning will improve,” Caldarella said.

The study was published in Educational Psychology. BYU assistant professor Ross Larsen, research staff member Leslie Williams and graduate student Kade Downs were co-authors on the paper.

To learn more about the McKay School of Education, visit the college’s site at


Media Contact: Aaron Sorenson