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4.4: Behavior-Specific Praise

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    As noted with the mentor-based program, strengthening the teacher student relationship has been the subject of a great deal of writing and research (Wehby et al., 1998). These types of interventions including behavior specific praise (BSP), opportunities to respond (OTR) and high probability commands (high-p) sequences all rely on teachers changing their behaviors in order to shape the behaviors of students. Children who exhibit behavior problems often have a contentious relationship with teachers which limit their access to the curriculum by reducing their opportunities to respond to academic tasks. Additionally, teachers tend to ignore students with behavioral challenges compared to typical peers which leads to a cycle of students acting out and teachers either ignoring the student, or reprimanding them. The key to breaking the cycle is increasing positive interactions between the teacher and student.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    One of the key more efficient methods of improving student behavior is behavior specific praise. BSP describes statements that explicitly reference the behavior that the child is being praised for (Sutherland, Wehby, & Copeland, 2000). Sutherland and colleagues described that teachers who praise students frequently and specifically have lower incidences of behavior problems within their classrooms. BSP is an intervention that can be used in both tier 1 and tier 2, is low-cost and powerful. It is suggested that teachers try to maintain a rate of four positive to one negative statements toward a child who may have a history of behavioral problems (Myers, Simonsen, & Sugai, 2011).

    Key components of utilizing behavior specific praise include: (a) the praise statement must be linked to the behavior, (b) is sincere, (c) reflects the student skill level, (d) is the evaluated for effectiveness, and (e) the praise is for effort not ability (Haydon & Musti-Rao, 2011).

    Lane, Menzies, Ennis, and Oakes (2015) describe seven steps and implementing behavior specific praise in the classroom.

    Evaluate Current Rates of Praise

    The first issue to look into when trying to increase rates of any teacher behavior is collecting data on current baseline instances of the behavior. In this case we are wanting to look at the use of general and specific praise statements delivered in the classroom broadly and towards the student whose behavior we are trying to improve. There are a variety of ways we can collect this data, perhaps the most unobtrusive and easy way is to utilize technology and either audio record or video record 10 to 20 minutes sessions over a few days. You could also have another teacher or paraprofessional collect this data, However the addition of other adults in the classroom always confounds variables with the classroom.

    Identify Target Behaviors

    The second step is to identify those behaviors we want to reinforce. In this case we want to improve the on-task performance of Willow (see Willow sheet). We want to be specific about these behaviors, therefore we are going to praise Willow anytime her head is facing in the direction of the teacher, or she is working on the assigned task.

    Observe the Student

    In order to know if any intervention is working we need to utilize data. Therefore, it’s important to note Willows attention to task consistent with our target behaviors. We suggest using something like the daily behavior reporting system (DBRS; Chafouleas, Riley-Tillman, & Sassu, 2006), or a similar system like the above-mentioned class dojo.

    Provide BSP

    Once we have a reasonable baseline on Willow’s attention to task (3 to 5 data points over consecutive days), we can begin utilizing BSP to determine if it works with Willow. Remember, Willow is used to being left alone and believes you don’t like her considering most of the interactions you’ve had have been negative. Thus, there maybe some pushback at the beginning, but it is important to persevere and developing and more positive relationship.

    Monitor BSP

    Similar to evaluating current rates of praise, It’s also important to monitor the delivery of BSP. For example, we maybe following us carefully crafted script however our delivery still seems sarcastic, insincere, or mean. Therefore, we should either have another adult monitor our use of the praise statements, or utilize the recording techniques that were discussed previously. It’s also important that we note if our ratio of using behavior specific praise to general praise has increased.

    Seek Student Input

    The final component here is seeking input from the student. Willow may not like the fact that you are now paying closer attention to her, and also increasing attention from her peers. Therefore, it may be in the best interest of Willow for the two of you to come to an agreement on how BSP statements can be delivered without embarrassing her. For example, a hand signal could we developed for the teacher and the student that signals the praise statement.


    When your author was in high school, he did not take compliments well and anytime his mother tried to praise him he became annoyed. This happened when he did well and she praised him, or when he did poorly, and she tried to make him feel better. After much deliberation, the two came together and decided that under both positive and negative circumstances, the proper praise statement was, “Mickey, you suck!” This tradition has continued for more than two decades and is just as effective now as it was in the 90s!

    This page titled 4.4: Behavior-Specific Praise is shared under a CC BY-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mickey Losinski (New Prairie Press/Kansas State University Libraries) .

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