Are threats or rewards more powerful when dealing with classroom management?

20 December 2010


If you take a quick look over the last couple of posts you will understand that as teachers we work in a system that relies heavily on threats and rewards.  This is not necessarily the ideal way to motivate students, nether-the-less when it comes to classroom management sometimes you need to give up your ideals and go with whatever works!

Now I’m not saying that we become lazy and we lose the passion to experiment and take risks – rather that you have a core set of strategies that you know will work and you can always fall back on them.

The reason that threats and rewards (both forms of extrinsic motivation) work is because every person is motivated to either make a gain or avoid a pain.

When it comes to classroom management sometimes you need to give up your ideals and go with whatever works!

So what works best…threats or rewards?

Because our greatest motivator is to avoid a pain or make a gain both of these techniques will work, but both have limitations, and both are useful in certain situations.

Both these motivational types work, but only as long as there is a pressure or the need isn’t filled from another source (another way of saying this is that the carrot serves its purpose as long as there are plenty of them and you aren’t full). The other prerequisite is that you need to like carrots! – As soon as you run out, or the person is full you will need to bring out the stick!

Generally speaking we are more motivated to avoid a pain than make a gain so in the classroom the stick approach works best.  That being said, you need to have a good balance between threats and rewards because if you just use a stick it will lose its effectiveness – just try yelling at a student who is yelled at all the time at home!

If you have read Daniel Pinks book, “Drive – the surprising truth of what motivates us” he explains that the carrot and stick approach (the whole approach we have to teaching) has Seven Deadly Flaws

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
  2. They can diminish performance.
  3. They can crush creativity.
  4. They can crowd out good behaviour.
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behaviour.
  6. They can become addictive.
  7. They can foster short-term thinking.

Join our community to access the Motivation Made Easy course, where we take an in depth look at the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and specific strategies that work in the classroom.

More of that in the posts to come.

What do you prefer…carrots or sticks?

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