Meaningful praise to encourage attainement

Achieving growth mindset through specific and directed praise

As a group of NQT’s at a mixed, state school in North London, we are keen to improve our classroom practice in order to become better teachers. We each conducted a research project centred around school-wide issues which we thought would increase growth mindset in a hope to raise attainment.

Statement of intent:

  • Tackling the behaviour and attainment of disengaged KS3 boys through specific and directed praise.
  • Encouraging KS4 boys to become confident, independent learners through specific and directed praise.


In two humanities subjects, History and RE, there was a pattern poor behaviour seen with disengaged KS3 boys as a result of a lack of confidence in their own abilities. This resulted in it taking the boys a long time to settle, low level disruptive behaviour and an unwillingness to attempt tasks. The consequence of this was the boys being removed from lessons.

In English, a pattern was found in KS4 boys where a lack of confidence in their own abilities was regularly resulting in an inability to attempt independent work and too much reliance on asking for teacher support.




What did we do?

There were several different and interlinked strategies we implemented in order to tackle behaviour and low confidence. One of the initial strategies we tried was meeting arranging meetings with colleagues where similar patterns of concern were identified and the students in question to incorporate staged interventions.

Strategies in class

We used specific and directed praise to address their lack of attainment in class. By doing this, we showed the students that their needs and attainment were at the forefront of our high expectations and belief in them. Secondly, within our own teaching we ensured that we used verbal praise for effort when a task or question was attempted. In order to identify the impact we had meetings with form tutors to discuss whether strategies were having a noticeable effect and whether students felt more confident.

In KS4 lessons, guided learning sessions and individualised written feedback with specific positives based on the assessment objectives allowed students to build on progress independently.

Sharing praise and positive reinforcement

Other interventions used were positive phone calls home; these were used as an incentive and reward for increased effort, completed work and improvement in behaviour. Whilst the students were presented with the opportunity for phone calls at the beginning of the lesson, these chances remained or decreased dependant on behaviour, this added a competitive element and provided a constant reminder of our expectations. Additionally in RE, the students were informed that there would be a number of positive postcards sent home at the end of the day as a reward for effort, completed work and good behaviour. As the lesson progressed, students would be informed of how many postcards had already been written and positive names would be called out at the end. At the end of every term, rewards assemblies were used to commemorate exceptional efforts. These assemblies increased students pride and the receiving of a certificate from the head teacher cemented their progress. This increased communication with home provided an all-encompassing narrative of progress.

We made use of form diaries to allow class teachers and form tutors to work together to praise positive outcomes and remind students of expectations. When a student demonstrated particular progress, we also sent emails detailing that to their form tutors and Heads of Year to further celebrate that pupil’s achievement and effort.


A range of desired outcomes were achieved through the above strategies. In attempting to increased students confidence, it was noticed that as a result of the interventions students started to voluntarily attempt to answer questions in class and engage in class discussions. In addition to this, students feel comfortable to critically evaluate and build upon their own work in order to improve the standard of it; this increased their understanding of what high quality work is and their desire to achieve it and therefore their levels and grades overall improved.

Another way progress has been made is through using the above intervention to improve behaviour. As behaviour slowly improved, students spent more time in class and less time on faculty support. Within the lesson, students were less disruptive and more focussed on work. This meant that progress was made for all students as there was more fluidity in the teaching, a quieter environment for concentration and fewer interruptions.

Unexpected and positive outcomes

As well as our desired outcomes, we were lucky to achieve a number of unexpected yet positive outcomes. One key outcome was an increased in the girls’ confidence. The girls became more vocal in class as a result of boys being more focussed. This enabled positive relationships with higher ability students to be developed, allowing them the time to cement their understanding and have higher attainment. These positive relationships across the board allowed for a deeper understanding to be developed and a more positive classroom environment where all students felt valued, leading to an increased enjoyment of the subject.



Addressing targets


Developing independence

Lesson swapping – encouraging resilience in students and teachers alike

‘Miss are we going to get a reward sticker for that?’

The idea of swapping a lesson, of standing in front of a class and teaching a subject of which I have no prior training or indeed knowledge of any kind, was a daunting prospect. As part of our NQT induction we were asked to do just that. We were asked to swap a lesson with another NQT, to teach a subject as unrelated to our own as possible.

So myself and Kate, a Textiles teacher, decided to swap our Year 7 classes. Textiles felt far enough away from English while also not being as alien as Maths or Science to be achievable.

I think we all rely on our subject knowledge as the pinnacle element in our teaching. No doubt this is why we were asked to do this activity:  to remember all the other elements that are involved in teaching for example the way we talk to students, how we foster an engaging atmosphere, the type of questioning strategies that we use. In this sense the experiment was a success. I felt comfortable in front of the class and was very open with them about the fact that they definitely know more than I do about the topic. I was impressed with the students’ resilience. My lack of knowledge of the topic encouraged them to engage in independent working. I find that this can often be difficult for Year 7 students who are not yet used to secondary school learning. Seeing Kate’s class engage in this style of learning so well though has encouraged me since to use more independent activities in my Year 7 class which in turn has encouraged my students to feel more confident in themselves.

In some senses though it reaffirmed my belief in the importance of subject knowledge as I think passion for the subject is one of the most important things that we as teachers can bring to our lessons. Demonstrating confidence answering learners’ questions and encouraging class discussion and debate in class would be very hard without secure subject knowledge. By having a passions for my subject I have a deeper, more questioning understanding of it.

Seeing someone else teach my class was, if possible, an even more surreal experience. Kate was warm, engaging and really encouraged the students to try (Unfortunately they now expect far more reward stickers in my lessons!) I hope I provide a similarly warm environment in my class, this experience has made me more conscious of this though and I am encouraged to try harder too.

Differentiation for dopes

Differentiation for dopes

As a PGCE student hearing about differentiation for the first time I felt very confused as I did for most of the year.

I soon realised however that differentiation is something that as teachers we do intrinsically within our lessons, whether consciously or not. As an NQT now I am even more aware that employing differentiation strategies makes teaching English in a mixed ability setting possible. Making sure that work is accessible for all – from high starters to low – is achievable and there are a range of ways in which to do this.

Differentiation by outcome is an inevitability but what I use in almost all of my lessons is differentiation by tools i.e. setting challenge tasks and scaffolding (sentence starters for example) I am conscious of my students ideas of their own abilities and I seek to make each lesson aspirational and motivational so instead of giving particular students prompt sheets or sentence starters I involve all – I have them up on the IWB and I allow my students to level themselves – this is a conscious decision.

However as was discussed in an NQT session by one of the schools Lead teachers and Development coordinator ‘Differentiation does not mean you must have tiered resources and tasks in every lesson.’

The students are as much a tool for differentiation as any resource that I can create. After formatively assessing students work I have my students redraft a paragraph of their choosing together as a group. Reading each other’s work and discussing how to make their own better is a key element of student’s learning from each other and making progress together.

English is an ideal subject for differentiation, in the sense that English is a subject about ideas, about interpretations. There is not just a straightforward right or wrong. This should serve to empower students. I ensure that my differentiation strategies hinge on this idea – that one student stating something in an entirely different way to another is not a negative but if anything is a positive. Differentiation through questioning is ideal for this. First creating an environment where students feels comfortable to share their ideas I can then assess their progress through targeted questioning, creating mini debates through Agree, Build upon, Challenge and hands down questioning which builds on the answers that students have given and encourages them to critically consider their answers. Think – Pair – Share is another strategy that I use which demonstrates progress and reflective learning.