Assessing Adolescent Praise and Reward Preferences for Academic Behavior

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to identify adolescent students’ preferences for praise and rewards for academic behavior through a survey adapted from existing praise preference surveys. The survey was administered to 764 adolescent students in Grades 5 through 12 in 1 northeastern school district. Students completing the survey ranked items numerically indicating their preferences for praise and reward for their schoolwork. Data across schools (middle, junior high, and high school) were analyzed to determine student perceptions of the frequency of receiving praise and rewards, preferences for types of praise from teachers and peers, preferences for social and tangible rewards, and ratings of whose opinions students value regarding their schoolwork. Findings suggest that both praise and rewards for academic behaviors are acceptable for adolescent students. Students indicated that they value teacher opinions about schoolwork more than the opinions of peers, parents, and themselves; however, the value placed on each of these differed by school. Quiet praise from teachers was ranked as most preferred; however, all forms of teachers praise were ranked highly. Gestural encouragement was the most highly preferred response from classmates for academic work. Overall, rewards were preferred slightly more than praise by adolescents in this sample. Significant differences in praise and reward preferences were found across middle, junior high, and high school students. This study serves as an important first step in understanding the acceptability of praise and rewards for adolescents, and has implication for research and practices related to secondary schools.

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