Transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century

Awards, rewards… Friend or foe?


Those of you who have read my first post will know that I have an hour’s commute to work.  Recently I was looking for some new podcasts, to make the journey that bit less boring (after 10 years doing the same journey, there are only so many donkeys, cows, sheep and goats I can marvel at along the way…)

I came across TEFL commute  A podcast for English language teachers, a “light-hearted listen aimed at brightening your daily commute”  Lindsay Clanfield, Shaun Wilden and James Taylor (the creators).  It definitely does what it says on the packet! There’s a website to boot, where you can find the links to all the podcasts, related articles, discussion questions and resources.  If that’s not enough, there’s a Facebook page where you can get the latest news, or you can follow them on Twitter.  They’ve just completed their third series and and I’m looking forward to the fourth…

One episode which particularly caught my attention was Episode 8  in the final series, which was inspired by their nomination for this year’s ELTon awards. In this episode

Lindsay and Shaun:

  • discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of giving students awards and rewards (a topic which has become a bit of a hot potato)
  • refer to Alfie Kohn’s work “Punished by rewards”  in which he puts the whole concept of giving awards and rewards to students under scrutiny.  
  • give their opinions on the situation in Canada where schools decided to get rid of awards altogether and declared everyone a winner.
  • Discuss the kinds of awards/rewards teachers give students and what they mean to them
  • Suggest a great activity (The medal activity) for increasing students self esteem and contributing to a positive learning environment

I don't need an award to inspire me to keep making music. (1)

This episode really got me thinking about my own teaching practices, past and present.  I for one plead guilty to having given out awards, rewards or praise which has completely devalued the activity in question and cancelled out any intrinsic motivation that might have existed.  Motivation was driven purely by the rewards I was offering. I was, as Alfie Kohn says, using rewards “as levers to control behaviour.”  I like to think that these days Alfie Kohn wouldn’t be shaking his head too vigorously at me as, rather than offer a plethora of awards and rewards, I try (that’s not to say I’m always successful) to provide my students with an “engaging curriculum” and “a caring environment” (Alfie Kohn) and adhere to his 3 C’s of motivation, Content, Community and Choice.

That doesn’t mean I believe in never offering praise, awards or rewards to my students, I do think there are some benefits if, what we are offering, is meaningful and in moderation.  But what is “meaningful” and how much is “in moderation”?  These are the questions I am constantly asking myself…

What do you think?  Should we give awards and rewards to our students?  How should we reward them?  What rewards systems do you use?  How often do you praise your students? I’d love to hear your opinions and don’t forget to check out TEFL Commute!


Author: lisajwood

I am an English language coach and Neurolanguage Coach® I current teach adolescents and adults. My areas of interest include brain-friendly learning, flipped learning, student-centred learning and promoting lifelong learning skills. I am also a keen advocate of using new technologies to facilitate the learning process.

4 thoughts on “Awards, rewards… Friend or foe?

  1. I believe positive feedback is extremely important when deserved on efforts and when it may provide encouragement to boost those efforts to reach potential. I very much dislike the idea of awards though in general, but face a society, large and local, that feels they are a fun addition and closure. To me though, awards aim to differentiate even the tiniest of differences between production (e.g. most improved, best essay, best actor, etc.). They’re arbitrary, even if a committee/teacher appears to make an valid argument for one over the other. Awards are only relevant when they will push forward access and awareness to production, possibly like the ELTons may.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with what you say. I also believe that awards such as the ELTons which encourage innovation and creativity are completely valid (although I wouldn’t like to be a judge…) I haven’t given awards to students for years however, I liked the idea in the podcast of getting students themselves to write positive comments about their peers (The medal activity) It encourages students to reflect on the individuals in class (not necessarily in their group of friends but none the less important to their learning environment and experience) and focus on positive things about their peers they may not have done otherwise. I think positive feedback is essential and have seen it work to great effect, although this is where I think we sometimes fall into the trap of maybe giving it too readily. I think consistency is fundamental for success here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lisa, just came across this. Thanks for the shoutout! We’ll have to get your comments or something audio on an upcoming episode. We’re back in late September by the way…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That sounds great. Enjoy the break!


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