Recently there has been much chatter about the impact of extrinsic awards on student learning. Some of the comments coming from both sides of debate have been animated, to say the least.
This has left me thinking and asking some questions. I have listed these thoughts and questions and attached some reflections:
Can extrinsic motivations assist in igniting intrinsic motivation?
I am not sure about this. I do know that the research regarding the negative effects extrinsic rewards have on intrinsic motivation is fairly unanimous. I have also recently read an abstract from a meta-analysis by Deci, Koestner, & Ryan (A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 125(6), Nov 1999, 627-668.). The analysis illustrates the overall effect of rewards on intrinsic motivation is negative. The study also disaggregates the data to demonstrate that the age of a student and the type of recognition has ranging effects on motivation.
But rather than get in over my head, I have been wondering about my three children and how my wife and I recognise them.
Hugs, high fives, kisses, affirmations and even the odd stop for an ice cream is a normal occurrence for us. It’s a way for us to honour and celebrate who they are and effort they give. Along the way, we might be helping them discover their true passions.
Should not schools/teachers do the same?
As principal of a school, honouring the voice of all stakeholders in my community is about deep listening.
It appears that most parents (at least in my community) value their child being recognised for various accomplishments and efforts. Do we not have an obligation to reconcile this expectation in a thoughtful and careful way? I think so.
Is there common ground in this debate? I have always believed that extreme opinions and actions usually leave too many people on the outside looking in. Do we have to take a “let’s throw the baby out with bath water” approach to this issue?
One of the core values of our school is developing the whole child: mind, body and spirit. We celebrate the fact students come to us with a wide array of gifts, challenges and interests. Our student recognition program serves to animate these values and beliefs. Here is a sample of the some awards that we celebrate at our school:
- Principal’s Inspiration Award. Recently this award went to a brother and sister who, in the face of losing their father in a tragic accident, provided an enduring message of hope to our school community.
- Students Recognizing Students Assemblies. Student run assemblies are held throughout the year and give students an opportunity to give “shout outs” to students who have gone above and beyond (service, excellence, etc. in our community). A recent example was how one of our students was recognised for being a member of Canada’s Little League World Series team this past summer in Williamsport!
- Academic Honours Assemblies. All subject areas and disciplines are honoured. (E.g. The Arts have as much weight as the Sciences)
- Service Awards. Students who give back to their community are recognised in a variety of ways.
Is it perfect? No. I realize that when we affirm some students, others are left out. Our challenge is to continue to honour and celebrate the varied talents and blessings of all our students. Are we doing a good job? I hope so! Our students and parents are telling us that we are.
Why is the student voice missing from this debate?
To get an anecdotal sense from students on this issue I interviewed 23 randomly selected Gr. 12 students (representing over 20% of the class) to reflect on our various recognition programs. I prompted them to think about what motivates them, their feelings when they received or didn’t receive recognition. With this in mind I asked them the following question:
Do you think the school should continue with its recognition program of students? Yes or No and explain your answer.
Here are my very unscientific results:
While all students responded with a “yes” the school should continue with its recognition program, some qualified their response. Here is a snap shot of some those statements:
- “I think recognising students is a good thing but it should come with the following disclaimer – it’s not the end of world when one is not recognised. At the end of the day, what really matters is if you have done your best….”
- “Recognition is not only good for the students but also good for the parents to know that their child is making a commitment.”
- I like the fact that the school tries to accommodate everyone, sports, clubs, academics
- “It gives me a sense of pride in myself and my friends”
- “We need to celebrate with and for each other”
- “Sometimes, if I’m not recognised it doesn’t make me feel good, but I still think we need to recognize each other”
Words to consider indeed!
As a parent and as a teacher/principal I understand that our kids bring many different talents and challenges to the table.
As I walk this tight rope of student recognition I want to embrace the gifts of my students and honour them in as many and creative ways as possible but at the same time want them to understand that what they do, they do for themselves.
But then again, I’m still figuring it out and invite your feedback!