Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 18 Jun 2009

Iím a teacher who feels out of step with my schoolís rewards-based culture. Children are applauded for every little thing they do.

Hillary's Advice

I think you are right on the money. Years ago we realised that beatings and criticism were no way to motivate children -- praise and encouragement did much better. The carrot rose. The stick, thank goodness, sank without trace.

But in many schools this message has now got muddled and pupils exist in a syrup of total approval. Robert gets a gold star for closing the door. Pippa is praised to the skies for producing an average maths work sheet. Ahmed has managed sit for a WHOLE TEN MINUTES on the mat without wriggling. Well done Ahmed!

Well it may be that this is a truly stupendous achievement for Ahmed, who may have ADHD or other problems. If soÖgood for him. But if he is a normal little boy, for whom sitting still is just a small matter of self-restraint, then ease up on the praise and reserve it for more worthy achievements.

Itís all a question of balance, but a culture of constant praise and rewards doesnít help children develop a sense of wanting to do things well for themselves.

At least, thatís the argument of an educational psychologist, Alan Mclean, in a new book called Motivating Every Learner (Sage Publications), and Iím with him all the way.

So I would say, run your classroom as you see fit, give praise when you feel it is due, and your children will respect you and develop much stronger self-motivation and inner guidance.