Praise most certainly can motivate pupils—but only if they are praised for effort. Telling pupils that they are wonderful is counter-productive—the get the message that they don’t have to work to win approval.Alas, our armchair experts (none of whom appear to have read serious research from the cognitive sciences) have latched on to a few studies which found that praise works better than punishment. All things being equal, it does—but specialists in ‘behaviour management’ have concluded that the best way to deal with disruptive pupils is to praise them.The folly of this notion can be judged by this comment from a classroom assistant working in a London pupil referral unit (PRU):
“In some PRUs it goes unpunished when the staff is assaulted. This is because of the ‘best practice’ idea that because praise is more effective than sanctions, the worse the behaviour, the more praise young people need. This led to a child’s mother being told that her son had a great day when he had kneed me in the groin.”
Once out in the real world, young people soon find out just how good they are. Employers are not interested in how good you feel about yourself: they just want to know if you are good enough for the job, and if you are willing to work.