What strategies can educators implement to prevent or address challenging behaviors?
Page 2: Behavior-Specific Praise
Behavior-specific praise is a positive statement directed toward a student or group of students that acknowledges a desired behavior in specific, observable, and measurable terms. An educator using behavior-specific praise explicitly states the exact behavior the student demonstrated to meet expectations.
By reinforcing positive behaviors, behavior-specific praise is a highly effective strategy that educators can use both to increase positive behavior and decrease challenging behaviors. Although educators can use general praise to reinforce student behavior, behavior-specific praise is proven to be a more effective strategy. In the table below, note that the examples of behavior-specific praise 1) identify the student who met the behavioral expectation and 2) clearly describe that behavior. In comparison, general praise could cause the students to wonder what it was they did well.
|General Praise||Behavior-Specific Praise|
|“Nice work, yesterday!”||“Kai, I like how you followed directions the first time. I really enjoyed your reading.”|
|“Good job, Nora.”||“Nora, great job sitting quietly when other students were asking questions.”|
- The use of behavior-specific praise is linked to increases in students’ on-task behavior and decreases in their challenging behavior.
(Royer, Lane, Dunlap, & Ennis, 2019)
- Behavior-specific praise can be effectively used to support students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).
(Allday, Hinkson-Lee, Hudson, Neilsen-Gatti, Kleinke, & Russel, 2012; Sutherland, Wehby, & Copeland, 2000)
Using the Strategy
To help educators prevent or address challenging behavior, the table below describes the steps to implement behavior-specific praise and provides an example.
Establish and explicitly teach behavioral expectations—the behaviors you want your students to display.
The teacher identifies the following behavioral expectation.
Classroom: Follow directions.
Because Sofia has difficulty has difficulty following directions during independent practice, the teacher establishes the following expectation for Sofia.
Student: Sofia will stay at her desk during independent practice.
||During instructional time, transitions, or down time, look for students engaging in the desired behaviors.||The teacher observes that Sofia stays at her desk while completing math problems during independent practice.|
||Frequently offer behavior-specific praise to the student by stating the student’s name and describing the behavior immediately after she performs it.||The teacher says, “Sofia, great job staying at your desk while you were working.”|
In this video, Mr. Santini uses behavior-specific praise during a brief transition in class activities (time: 0:31).
In addition to the three steps listed above, the four actions below can be helpful when implementing this practice.
Gather data or reflect on how often you offer praise and corrective statements to the student.
Example: A teacher (or paraeducator) marks a plus or a minus on a clipboard every time he gives positive or negative feedback to a student. He determines he is providing twice as many corrective statements to praise.
In the beginning it may feel fake or forced to use behavior-specific praise. Consider writing down a statement and practicing your praise out loud to become more comfortable and to make sure you are delivering it in a sincere tone of voice.
Self-monitor your use of praise by keeping a tally of praise statements during each class period to ensure at least a 4:1 ratio of praise to corrective statements. Students with challenging behavior often have difficulty meeting the established behavioral expectations and, therefore, have fewer opportunities to receive praise. As such, the teacher might need to offer praise more frequently, perhaps every few minutes. Once the student spends more time engaged in the desired behavior, the teacher can decrease the frequency of praise, though still maintaining a ratio of four praises for every one corrective statement.
Check in with students to see how comfortable they are with receiving behavior-specific praise. This can be done by speaking with students individually or asking the class to fill out a feedback form. Younger elementary school students may respond well to enthusiastic praise that occurs in front of the entire class, while older elementary students may prefer subtle praise statements. Regardless of age, some students may find verbal praise in front of others embarrassing. To meet the needs of these students, you can provide praise in a one-on-one setting or in a non-verbal manner (e.g., in a note).
Although this strategy works as a Tier 1 support, it is also effective as a Tier 2 support when working with students who consistently display challenging behaviors. For these students, educators should:
- Identify specific behaviors they want students to demonstrate.
- Frequently observe the student to identify instances of desired behavior.
- Increase the frequency of behavior-specific praise (e.g., 9 praise statements to every 1 corrective statement)
To make sure you are using this strategy with fidelity, download this behavior-specific praise implementation checklist.
To view our IRIS Fundamental Skill Sheets on behavior-specific praise, click on each title below.