Why don't we hand out stickers at Living Faith?

Learning Landscape Thursday, 21 Apr 2022

Motivation is a fundamental element in education. We want students to do their best, try hard and persevere especially when challenged. But do we want our students to complete tasks because they want a reward or because they are truly engaged, curious and interested in improving? There is a wealth of research about what motivates children best, but often schools can lean towards the quick fixes.

There are two main types of motivation:

  • Extrinsic - motivated to perform an activity for a reward or to avoid punishment. eg stickers, medals, competition, fear of failure, money etc (also known as carrots and sticks).
  • Intrinsic - motivated to perform an activity for its own sake or personal goals. eg enjoyment, curiosity, belonging, learning etc.

Children do not need a reward for playing or doing things that are enjoyable because the activity is a reward in itself. In contrast, to get children to participate in less desirable activities, they are often offered extrinsic rewards. These often do get an immediate reaction but they also imply that the task we are asking them to undertake is not desirable and therefore they will be compensated (paid). We have all been there as parents, ‘If you behave in the grocery store, I will buy you a treat on the way out.' This may see immediate results and we get through the shopping experience slightly less bedraggled than usual. However, the invisible price we pay is that now every time we visit the grocery store there is an expectation that they will receive a reward if they behave. What happens if that reward is removed? Rewards can very quickly transform into bribes.

Although extrinsic motivators may appear successful in the short term, they can have long term negative effects. In education, rewards can transform a once enjoyable activity into a ‘chore’ which can diminish students' love of learning. Offering carrot and stick rewards tell students that the activity is not worthwhile doing on its own, extinguishing intrinsic motivation. While extrinsic motivators can increase compliance, they also can decrease creativity and overall performance by narrowing students' focus. They can also increase competition between students and encourage students to cut corners or take shortcuts.

When it comes to behaviour, research shows that giving children stickers for good behaviour can actually have the opposite effect by reducing their ability to empathise and sympathise with others. Good behaviour can transform into a transaction all about ‘what I get out of it,’ rather than what is best for others.

How we focus on intrinsic motivators at Living Faith

We aim to motivate and engage students by:

  • Designing tasks that are engaging, challenging and that have a purpose;
  • Explicitly teaching contemporary competencies such as grit, resilience, self-direction, adaptability and reasoning;
  • Providing autonomy by partnering with students to give them ownership and direction over their own learning;
  • Encouraging students to see the value in progress over achievement;
  • Instilling a passion and love of lifelong learning; and
  • Fostering a belief that learning is its own reward.

Extrinsic motivators can increase compliance and obedience which may look great initially but in the long term will not help children choose these behaviours on their own in the absence of rewards.

We want to encourage students to be intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated. We don’t want to use quick fixes but take the time to foster soft skills and self-motivation to learn. We aim to engage our students in rich, purposeful activities that give a sense of autonomy and allow them to see their growth so that in the long-term, students are motivated to become lifelong learners.

Bianca Ravi, Director of Learning