Educators have long been trying to identify the best ways to praise students and influence behavior. And new research is helping teachers understand which types of praise are most meaningful to students and, more importantly, most likely to increase motivation. So what’s going to get real results? Find out which praiseworthy trend in the classroom is steering students toward excellence.

The right way to say it
Researchers suggest that the use of rewards in the classroom, such as praise, can condition students to respond positively to tasks. Studies show that praise can encourage students in many positive ways—like helping them pay more attention to detail and giving them more incentive to try harder. However, researchers also note that there’s a right way, and a wrong way, to convey praise.

A recent article in the New York Times talks about how “too much praise is no good for toddlers.” Carol Dweck, a Stanford researcher, found that person-based praise (“you are really smart”) is less effective than process-based praise (“you must have tried really hard”). These findings suggest that praise is more effective when it’s delivered contingently and with a purpose. Furthermore, praise works best when it specifies the particulars of the accomplishment (“looks like you studied hard for the math section”).

Another important component of effective praise is that it’s spontaneous and focused on the student’s accomplishments. In other words, praise should only be delivered when appropriate. Conversely, praise becomes ineffective when it’s delivered randomly or unsystematically, or is bland and made with minimal attention.

Less is more
Parents and educators agree that praise is critical to developing a child’s self-esteem, which can influence scholastic performance. And although praise is obviously good for children and students, when given constantly, it can lose its effect. So rather than responding to every assignment or task with a “good job” or a “nice work,” here are four ways to make sure your praise hits its mark:

1. Make it private. There are times when public recognition is appropriate, but in general, praise that’s delivered in private is more effective.
2. Make it subtle. The most powerful gestures are the small ones, like eye contact or a smile from across the room.
3. Make it worthy. Offer praise only when it’s deserved or when efforts go beyond expectations.
4. Make it sincere. Praise students for something you’re genuinely proud of. If you’re not feeling it, odds are they won’t either.

Compliments that complement
Children have an intrinsic desire to learn. And the classroom is the perfect place to foster that learning. Whether it’s through an acknowledgement, a kind word, a pat on the back, or a gentle nudge—it’s amazing what motivates students to keep trying their best to achieve the most amazing things.

So how has praise helped your students accomplish more in the classroom? Leave us a comment and share what’s working for you!