Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Eyes on the Prize

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Eyes on the Prize

Article excerpt

Researchers recently investigated the relationship between extrinsic rewards (cash prizes, trips and so on) and performance at school (behaviour, attendance and results). There were exactly no gasps of surprise in Bennett Mansions at the news that there was barely a limp handshake between the two.

But schools still beggar themselves. I've seen iPads, driving lessons and even cash waved in front of students like bits of apple before a parrot.

Research into motivation in the workplace is nothing new. A common finding is that reward schemes work up to a point, as long as they are short - no longer than a month - and have a clear goal.

But this is for adults. How much shorter should a scheme be to work for children? Annual competitions may sound wholesome but they lose the majority of children after the first week, leaving only the die-hards and obsessively competitive to play the field.

Worse still are schemes that require groups to participate collaboratively. Imagine being a good kid in a class of yahoos, watching the reward train pull further and further away. Why bother?

Then there are the reward schemes that punish the good. Many schools operate a points system that encourages desired behaviours. But who needs the most encouragement? The wayward. So who gets the most points? The same. At the end of the year you can see the Bash Street Kids rocking up to Chessington World of Adventures as the compliant kids look on sadly, wondering why they got out of bed.

The danger with reward schemes is that they dislocate behaviour from the intrinsic reasons behind it. …

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