In this week’s piece, Daniel T. Wilingham introduces us to the intricacies of praising students’ work as a motivational tool. While it may seem that praise works well as an encouragement, the specifics of complimenting students are important. Too much praise loses its meaning, while praising on the condition of “keeping up the good work” reverses the intended effects resulting in a decrease in student enthusiasm. Wilingham offers us clear guidelines on how teachers will be most effective at using praise to foster student motivation.

Praise is such a natural part of human interaction in our culture that it would be difficult indeed to stop praise altogether. Fortunately, existing research indicates that praise can motivate and guide children—but despite the fact that praise seems so benign, there are circumstances under which praise is not beneficial. A rule of thumb that can summarize this complex research literature is that if you try to use praise for your own ends or even in a conscious attempt to help the student, it is likely to go wrong. If, on the other hand, praise is an honest expression meant to congratulate the student, it will likely be at least neutral or even helpful to the student; even under these circumstances, however, care must be taken in what is praised.

This semester, the CTAL talks will focus on fostering motivation among students. The first two Thursdays of the month on the blog, you will find articles and think pieces reviewing different approaches and techniques that can be used in the classroom to create motivation. The other two Thursdays will address more general issues of teaching and learning.