Should Rewards and Punishments Be Used to Motivate Students’ Learning?

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3) Should rewards and punishments be used to motivate students’ learning?

I believe that rewards and punishments do play a key part in sustaining children’s interest and motivation to learn. However, I feel there are other key factors and methods that could be used to greater effect and am inclined to disagree with the question at hand. a) There are many educational theories on the topic of motivation but I believe the Self-Determination and Self-Efficacy theories cover some key aspects that deserve to be mentioned. The Self-Determination theory, in a nutshell, discusses the extent to which people validate their actions upon reflection and engage in them willingly. It assumes that every individual seeks personal development and undertakes challenges to build up their self-esteem (Rochester, 2008). According to Eggen and Kauchak, learners have three ‘innate psychological needs: competence, autonomy and relatedness’. The need for competence suggests that learners have to feel confident in their ability to match up with their peer’s performances, with determining factors like praise and attributional statements regarding the reasons for their performance. The need for autonomy basically talks about learners wanting to feel in control over their learning environment; this can be achieved by pushing them to be committed to their goals and providing detailed feedback after assessments. Finally, the need for relatedness stems from learners wanting assurance with regards to their relationships with the people around them and feeling deserving of care and respect. (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007) The Self-Efficacy theory is similar to the Self-Determination theory in certain aspects; basically, it focuses on learners’ confidence in their capability to achieve success, which in turn determines how you tackle challenges. (Wagner, 2008) The four factors influencing self-efficacy are past performance, modelling, verbal persuasion and psychological state. Past performances, the most important factor of the four, determine a person’s initial confidence in handling the task at hand while modelling gives learners a sense of the benchmark expected from them, thus giving them greater confidence in their preparations. Verbal persuasion, when used appropriately, can help spur learners on when they are in determining their progress and, eventually, their success. (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007) What impact do these two theories have on learners’ motivation to learn? To put it simply, both theories believe that by acknowledging their innate needs and boosting their confidence, learners will most likely be more motivated to learn. Learners aged 7-11 are in the concrete operational stage and are ‘increasingly conscious of cognitive capacities and effective strategies’ (Berk, 1999); this means that they are more aware of what they can do based on their current level of ability as well as what can be done to improve their performance. Hence, it would make sense that we should aim to build up their confidence such that they can truly perform to the best of their capabilities. There are, of course, some concerns about there being over-confidence as a result of being ‘overly-encouraged’. Also, there is a limit to the effectiveness of verbal persuasion in really motivating students to press on with the task at hand. (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007) However, a crucial point to note is that any effort to boost their confidence is to increase their self-belief, to believe that they can succeed if they put in the necessary amount of effort; that way their mindset towards challenges will be a much healthier one. Thus, the Self-determination and Self-Efficacy theories show that rewards and punishments need not be the sole factor in motivating learners. b) The Self-Determination and Self-Efficacy theories discussed earlier were schools of thought belonging to cognitive theories of motivation. The use of rewards and punishments in classrooms is a behavioural view of...
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