How to motivate: the carrot or the stick?
Not so long ago it was the stick that was out of favour … now it’s the carrot. Or at least, too many carrots. Recent studies have shown that our rebound from our parents dictum of “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has ricocheted too far in the other direction and that that excessive praise can develop uneasy, narcissistic adults.
Marshall Duke, a clinical psychologist and a researcher at the Charles Howard Chandler professor of psychology at Emory University, in Atlanta.”There is a need to have more room on either side of ‘good,'” Duke said. “People go from ‘good’ right to ‘phenomenal.’ Honest feedback delivered sensitively is far more beneficial in the long run than empty praise. Adults have gotten into the habit of not telling children when they are wrong, and that will not help them cope with adversity when they are adults. That’s not how the world is.”
So if piling on the praise isn’t the answer, how do you motivate children and encourage high self esteem?
Grounded confidence is what we need to nurture. And one way to do that is to teach children how to appreciate themselves. If they learn to rely on their own realistic measure of success (a measure you may need to positively influence), then they won’t need someone else to tell them whether what they’ve done is enough. They’ll know for themselves.
Teaching children to measure their own success from a young age and letting them praise, or acknowledge disappointment in themselves limits their reliance on others’ opinions. Even Simon Cowell’s.
So, when a pupil is about to begin a task, start by asking them what outcome will make them feel successful, and counter that by asking what outcome would make them feel disappointed. Make sure to steer their answers towards focusing on effort and not natural talent.
Then record that piece of work, in progress and the result – photos or video are often the most memorable and illustrative way to do this. Put it on to Earwig where it can be kept forever. Then discuss the outcome with the pupil. See how little of your own opinion you can give, and how much of theirs you can encourage. Get them to rate the effort they put in and add notes on this discussion to the Earwig record.
Then remember to use these records. Not only as teaching evidence, but to remind the pupil of their achievements and disappointments. You can refer to them at parent’s evening, to motivate during revision or even to boost a period of low morale.
What’s the first rule of teaching? Lead by example. In this case … their example.