The impact of behavior-specific praise on student engagement

Evelyn Soto, California State University, Monterey Bay

Thesis (M.A.) Teacher Education Department


Behavior-specific praise (BSP) is one motivational tool that has the potential to increase student engagement and eagerness to learn. In this study, the use of BSP was explored. Over a one- month study, third-grade students were given BSP during math instruction. Student nonverbal cues (i.e., eye contact, completing seatwork), peer interaction, and class participation were observed and tracked to determine if the use of BSP increased student engagement. Key findings in students’ responses to BSP included: 1) acquired perseverance and confidence to complete a given task; 2) increased student initiative to exceed teacher expectations as demonstrated by their use of strategies; and 3) strengthened peer communication during group work. Reflecting on my teaching practice, the study findings also indicated that increasing the amount of praise I gave to my students influenced the learning environment allowing for students to facilitate their own learning and giving BSP resulted in valuable student feedback necessary in order for me to implement this process long term.