Being counterproductive

I knew of a school that announced they were going to pay teachers for taking sports clubs.

The result of this was that teachers felt devalued. They did sports clubs for the pupils, and ran them with a sense of duty and some pride.

The number of sports clubs decreased.

I know a school that pays its staff to run after school sessions. This seems fair, not taking advantage of teachers’ goodwill. However, the school insists that the sessions must be agreed with the assistant headteacher in advance, the sessions must run every week without fail, the attendance must be recorded, and the results of the pupils that attend will be assessed for impact. The school feels it can do this because the sessions are paid for. The result is that many many staff do not run any after school sessions, because the message is that they’re optional. Yes, by paying, fewer teachers are doing sessions – far fewer than in any other school I know.

Last week I observed a lesson. The lesson was liberally sprinkled with praise. It was a bells and whistles lesson. The pupils were being challenged by questions, and the pace was incredible – probably too much. There was a lot going on. With the more challenging questions, the teacher said “this is a house point question”. I think he gave out about thirty house points.

I asked the pupils about when they put their hands up, and what made them answer questions. One pupil said to me “I don’t answer questions that are not house point questions”.

I reflected, and thought in this class there is no motivation to answer ordinary questions, only house point ones. I thought about expectations. It appears to me that rewarding the answering of questions is pretty counterproductive.

It got me thinking, are rewards like that always counterproductive?

Whenever we give a reward for something we should be expecting (like pupils answering questions as best they can, every time, or for attending school on time, or anything else), we shift the arena of expectations. The pupil gets the message that they’ve done something not expected, but extra, and been rewarded for it. They may reflect that they don’t really need to do that thing, because the consequence is not getting the reward. The action we’ve praised has become optional.

Is it possible to use extrinsic motivators to develop intrinsic motivation? I’m guessing not, and I suggest that extrinsic motivators (reward points, Vivo miles and so on) are far more likely to actively work against intrinsic motivation.

This is especially true if we consider how rewards are used in most schools and the arbitrary 4 amounts of praise to one criticism rule (or varient of) that is taught on PGCE courses and reinforced by terrible schools.

Like paying teachers for taking sports clubs, they do the opposite of what they’re intended to.

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3 thoughts on “Being counterproductive

  1. I’ve always thought this about stickers in Primary schools. Children learn to do things for “stuff” rather then because they want to do it for themselves.

    Is it always bad, though? As part of a range of things to improve attendance (which was the worst in the borough) we gave out weekly 100% attendance stickers, termly certificates and had a 100% attendance trip. I think it had an impact on attendance for pupils but was the consistent rise in attendance more down to the relentless chasing by the learning mentor, a de facto attendance officer?

    Mixed feelings! Has it’s place at times but always question why you’re using it, would be my best analysis.

  2. I’ve read plenty of evidence about this – but surely if this was ALWAYS true then we shouldn’t be paying people money to work? Is this not the basis of the entire capitalist system?

    I think it is important to bear in mind when giving out rewards, but I don’t necessarily think it means we Shouldn’t give out rewards. Certainly giving out praise can’t be counted as extrinsic motivation – is it not for the kudos and goodwill generated that teachers run afterschool clubs?

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