The reward for learning should be learning

Published by Lori Pickert on August 3, 2010 at 04:48 PM

In my 20 years of teaching, I have seen students come and go, and have followed their postgraduation careers and learned from their own epiphanies about the world. But I have seldom been so worried as I am now. How to Teach the Trophy Generation, the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This article by a college professor contains some interesting ideas about using students’ “‘connectivity’ — that is, a strong desire to be connected to the community, and a propensity for social networking … well served by interdisciplinary study,” plus ideas about how to motivate students who are spoiled by a history of being rewarded for just showing up.

There is also a wonderful and touching story about her grandmother learning for learning’s sake.


Comment by Stacey on August 3, 2010 at 10:26 PM

I think about this a bunch during the summer when the library does it's summer reading programs. A loves being read to all year long, I really don't want him to connect reading to an external prize. As it is right now going to the library and finding books (okay and doing some puzzles) is the reward itself.

On the other hand we have struggled with certain other things, most recently daily teeth brushing, and have resorted to a chart and a gift after a certain amount of days teeth brushing. But we are only using this method once for the teeth (although we'll keep the chart going).

In my mind rewards are like so many other educational things has been taken too far and out of context. Too often educators hit on a single "trick" and use it until it no longer has the desired effect, yet they won't let go of the technique.

The worse part of this to me is that so much of the educational system believes that you need to trick children into learning, rather than understanding that learning is the natural state of childhood.;

Comment by patricia on August 4, 2010 at 05:42 AM

It's always interesting to see those in higher education searching for new models, and coming to what we homeschoolers already do. The "metacognitive assignment," for example. The author writes, "Ask your students to complete a range of creative tasks, from conceptualizing solutions to actual problem solving, and require them to document their own thinking and research processes. Assignments can, and sometimes should, cross the boundaries of their fields of study and require interdisciplinary research."

Funny, that's just what kids who are given time and freedom to follow their passions tend to do on their own. I pity teachers (and I used to be one) for feeling that they have to design assignments that will captivate students and insure a certain sort of learning. It's so much easier to start at the other end, with the students, and to let them create the assignments that will light their own personal sparks. When you do things that way, any sort of external trophy is utterly unnecessary.

Okay, choir, I'll stop preaching now. ;-)

Comment by Alice on August 4, 2010 at 12:14 PM

I don't think that giving the prize to all the students is the problem, the problem is that the prize is a trophy. There are other ways of rewarding students for their efforts - listening to them, reading their work, displaying their work, talking about their work.....

The trophy for each student was a step in the right direction - I think we need to take it further and take out the trophy altogether.

Connecting with other students - I hadn't thought of that as being a prize. I am sure that stopping kids talking to each other is the biggest problem for teachers in schools. Why not follow their natural inclination (to talk to each other) and turn it into part of the lesson - good idea!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2010 at 02:23 PM

stacey, i feel the same way about reading programs. i wrote about it here:

re: rewards and tricks .. yes, the saddest thing is that so many educators assume children won't learn unless they are coerced, bribed, or forced. and they've infected many parents with the same view. it's so common for people to comment, "what you're doing won't work .. children won't learn the things they *need* to learn unless you make them." and i heard the same thing when i was running my private school! any model that assumes children *want* to learn and will work hard at something *once they see the value* is challenged .. because people simply don't have faith in children's in-born desire to learn and challenge themselves.
patricia, haha re: choir. you know it's true. :^)

this is exactly what i would say to parents about allowing children to choose project topics .. why push a boulder uphill when you could roll it downhill instead? help children investigate and research their own interests .. show them where they need to acquire and develop their basic skills to meet their own goals .. and your job is a thousand times easier. you are helping them learn it on their own .. you are allowing them to have ownership of their own learning .. and you are doing what you should have been doing all along. too many educators see "teaching" as micromanaging lazy, good-for-nothing, slack-off workers rather than mentoring intelligent human beings.

alice, i think giving the prize to all the students IS a problem. why strive if the person next to you who didn't try at all gets the same reward? why work hard if you know you're getting a ribbon anyway? it subverts the entire point of asking children to strive for something. to give them *nothing* would allow them to at least walk away with their view of what happened intact .. they all know who worked hard, who achieved, who slacked off, who didn't care at all. when we then hand everyone a prize for just showing up, we force them to take that into account and change their view .. now they see the achievers and the ones who tried hard as suckers who made a lot of effort for nothing.

i don't think a trophy for everyone is right, but i agree with you that a big improvement would be taking out the trophy altogethe.

at our school, children were allowed to talk to one another while they worked; in fact, they were encouraged to ask a classmate for help if they needed it. the classroom was a community; the teacher wasn't the only one with the answers.

i think it shows a deep disrespect for children as human beings to ask them to live all day in a school environment that doesn't allow them to talk. children at one of our local schools aren't allowed to speak to each other at lunch. school becomes a kind of solitary confinement, where society at large feels children are being "socialized" .. even though they have no chance to develop authentic relationships or be social at all!

collaborative learning is a joke with many educators who see it as time better spent with kids being drilled on basics. but anyone who has seen a group of children working together on something real .. solving real problems, sharing ideas, building on one another's suggestions, learning that each person has something to give, practicing leadership skills, articulating opinions, etc. etc. etc. knows that *done correctly* collaborative learning is a thousand times better environment for authentic learning.

Comment by patricia on August 4, 2010 at 02:42 PM

This is just fabulous:
"Too many educators see "teaching" as micromanaging lazy, good-for-nothing, slack-off workers rather than mentoring intelligent human beings."

That one is getting transcribed into my journal of quotes. All the inspiring teachers I've ever had fell into that second category, obviously. It's also a good reminder that when, as a parent, I find myself micromanaging, something is going in the wrong direction...

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2010 at 08:23 PM

thank you, patricia!

re: micromanaging, when i find myself leaning in and getting too involved and tempted to micromanage, for *me* it's usually because i get over-invested in things going a particular direction .. i see the potential of what my son is doing and where it could go. it takes a long time to learn to let go and watch him steer the boat where he will. he always gets to the best place -- the place *he* wanted to go. in the end it's always better than what i would have planned, because it's 100% meaningful to *him*.

i think the more success a person sees letting their child manage their own learning, the easier it becomes to keep their fingers out of the pot. :^)

Comment by Kimberly on August 5, 2010 at 01:43 AM

A thought provoking article... thank you!

“A very slight alteration to a standard assignment can change the quality of the outcome significantly…. The lesson for educators is that the general pedagogical assumptions that once worked no longer apply. The culture has shifted.”

Here I go philosophizing again, but I have to ask, “Does anyone other than me out there wonder whether we need reform due to a culture shift or simply because the system has not ever really applied, at least not perfectly?” As an educator passionate about reform, I wholeheartedly believe an overlooked objective in pedagogy is the cultivation of individual imagination:

“Far better to give students a context that will appeal to their imaginations and progressively nurture their intellects by invoking other fields: Create a self-portrait after reading Poe's "The Raven." Create a self-portrait while listening to Bach's Cello Suite No. 2.”

YES! Creative and critical thinking skills are developed when the child’s work becomes meaningful. My oldest son has been studying music for many years. He has not been pushed or prodded. He has been encouraged. We help him pace. There is a significant difference.

This past week Taylor was sick and his one complaint was that he would not be able to work at his music… it’s true.

Becoming Juilliard material was never our goal. We are fighting for habits of purpose and this is costly in more ways than one, but we find a way because the result is priceless. There is no doubt Taylor's skill serves him well and hopefully will encourage others to engage in the work of chasing a dream.

Recently the phone rang and a writer from the Los Angeles Times wanted to speak to Taylor... wanted to interview my son,,0,3845859.story

I speechlessly handed over the phone. He has certainly come into his own, one note at a time. What I see developing in my oldest son's character is something that a standardized test will never measure.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 6, 2010 at 02:55 PM

kimberly, thank you for sharing your story! and an interesting article!

re: the "cultivation of individual imagination", there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for the individual in today's factory model of education. the kids whose individual interests and talents are respected and supported are the ones who will soar.

Comment by David on August 7, 2010 at 07:53 AM

It scares me how wide spread the 'factory model of education' is around the world. When passionate people try to shout out that this is damaging our kids and our society it all too often seems that their voices are muffled or drowned out by the constant grinding forward of the cogs and the engines ... that we can only choke on the smoke of so-called progress and 'seamless curriculums'. Sigh... Sorry to be negative...I occasionally find this need for a mass produced education system SO overwhelming.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2010 at 04:41 PM

david, well, it's hard to be positive when you are out there working in it. the tide is definitely moving in one direction, and it's tiring swimming against it.

i think it has to do with who has control over what happens in the schools. there are passionate educators working against these things, but they don't have the control...

Comment by kellyi on August 9, 2010 at 10:16 AM

I am still astonished by the reactions of strangers in the UK to home education. An article was recently published in a national newspaper that was pro-home education and the comments section took my breath away.

Apparently, home educators are hot housers, selfish, relgious crazies and a whole host of other horrid things. It is this brain washing of the general public that saddens and depresses me - how can we change the model of education so prevalent in the world that is so obviously failing so many, when the very people it failed, defend it?

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 9, 2010 at 07:28 PM

is it that publicly educated folk prefer mainstream, prefer everyone to be the same, are suspicious of those who take a different, oft-times weirder path and made angrily defensive when faced with people who've made a different choice?

mm, or maybe that's just human folk...

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