Friday forum

6th January 2006 at 00:00
'The best reward for pupils is for them to believe they are the best they can be'

Part 1: Rewards

We're starting the new year with a new forum, this time on motivation. Do you give smiley stickers to your class of five-year-olds or pound;150 to your hormonally charged 15-year-olds if they get an A to C pass in their GCSEs? Do these rewards work?

Friday columnist and author of The Motivated Mind Dr Raj Persaud, parent Brian Smith and 15-year-old south London school pupil Kelvin Omonfomah join the debate.

But we'd most like to hear about your experiences. Share your best practice - or schemes that sank - in our forum at www.tes. co.ukfridaymotivation.

If we publish your contribution, we'll pay you pound;25. How's that for motivation?

On a stand in the entrance hall at Kippax Greenfield primary school is a well-thumbed golden book. It glistens invitingly; open it and you're rewarded with a beautiful calligraphic script which tells cockle-warming stories, little affirmations of kindnesses and efforts and achievements in the daily life of this Yorkshire village school. It is a favourite with parents.

Take this example: "Joe held class record for the long jump. When the very last person had their turn and actually outjumped him he smiled at them and gave them the thumbs up. What a sportsman!"

Or this, written by a class to their teacher who had been off for three months with a broken ankle: "Well done for trying really hard and doing your best on your return to school. Keep it up!"

There are hundreds of stories like this. The calligrapher is Val Sian, headteacher of the 180-strong school in the middle of Kippax, an ex-mining community, now commuter belt, on the south side of Leeds. Every Friday she sits down to compile the log, a diary of nominations from teachers and pupils in the school for work well done, for life well lived. Pupils listen silently as the golden book is read out in assembly. No one knows who or what will be in it. Mrs Sian is into her fifth year as head and her sixth golden book at Kippax Greenfield. When other schools are handing out cash incentives to improve achievements, goody bags, watches, gift tokens, the ultimate reward at this school is an elegantly scripted entry in the book.

Greg Perry, 34, is the school's Year 6 teacher. He arrived a term before Mrs Sian and is now also responsible for behaviour, accelerated learning, ICT, and key stage 2. The golden book, he says, has become "the ultimate form of recognition" for teachers and pupils. "A pupil might only be in the book two or three times a year. We keep the currency high."

Individual teachers are left to reward children's achievement as they see fit. Star charts and certificates are used with some of the youngest classes, but over the years Mr Perry has become less and less enamoured of formal rewards. "I like to use the word recognition rather than reward," he says. "It's crucial to recognise achievement, but it's the intent of the deliverer that's important, not the form of the recognition. Some children don't want their achievement to be recognised in front of everybody. A tap on the shoulder, a small sign that you're aware of their achievement, is enough.

"In some circumstances I find that whole-class recognition is motivating.

The class is given a chance to nominate somebody for their achievement, and that can be for anything: for being kind, for behaving well. Once my class nominated a boy who found it very hard to take compliments, for accepting compliments three times in a row. The class then chose how the whole class should benefit from this achievement. I think they opted for an extra five minutes at playtime."

However, Mr Perry has come round to thinking that the greatest reward teachers can give to pupils is their time. At Kippax, the curriculum has been "slowed down" and pruned to make more time for music, sport and creativity. "It means teachers have more time to run clubs, to talk to pupils outside the curriculum, to get to know them and their interests, time for them to get to know me. It's all about relationships. If I know pupils and what interests them, what motivates them to achieve, then I can tailor my recognition accordingly."

Mr Perry believes the most effective way to reward older children is to give them responsibility in an area of personal interest. Some help to run the lunchtime football club; others become "yellow cappers" - they organise playground activities for the younger ones and wear a yellow cap for the privilege; some answer the school phones during break times; some staff the "friendship stop", a place lonely children can go to at playtime; some manage the ICT lunchtime club or "work" in the fruit shop; others produce the children's prospectus every year, giving their views of the school. All of these jobs are applied for and awarded to those who strive to achieve.

When he praises children Mr Perry is careful in his use of language. "I don't say, 'That's excellent", I say 'Nice one', talk to them in their own tones." Also, he is very specific in the praise he gives: "I never say 'I like that', I will always say, 'I like the way you've used colour in that picture'. That shows that you've really taken notice."

He readily admits that Val Sian has done much to enliven the school; when she took over, he says, staff were downhearted. For her part, Mrs Sian believes that staff have to be given recognition for achievement before they can recognise achievement in children. "We are here to have a good time," she says. "When I arrived, Kippax didn't feel like a primary school at all. There was no colour, no singing, no enjoyment. The children had real attitude, they were constantly niggling, picking fights. They lacked manners and had no pride in the school.

"I remember the first time I tried to pin something up on the staffroom wall there was a sharp intake of breath. Staff told me it wasn't allowed to stand on chairs, or to put cups on the floor. So the first thing I did when I got the whole staff together was to get them to stand on chairs and sing together and have a mass putting of cups on the floor. I told them if the staffroom didn't sound like a rugby club within three weeks, I was leaving.

After that we got down to business.

"It was a case of teasing out the very real talents I have here and getting people to collaborate. We opened up the curriculum, introduced a gospel choir, steel pans, staff parties." For the past two years Kippax Greenfield has been in the top 25 per cent of schools nationally for value-added. "I think children and parents now believe this is an exciting place to be,"

says Mrs Sian. "The best reward for pupils is for them to believe they are the best they can be."

Standards have also risen rapidly at George Dixon international school in Birmingham. Headteacher Sir Robert Dowling agrees that children are best rewarded by their own success and best motivated by being shown what the future can hold for them if they achieve the highest standards they can.

"You have to make them feel that they are in charge of their own destiny,"

he says. "The money will be there later for making the right choices now.

"The top public schools don't pay their kids to pass exams. Heads who do that are trying to buy a place in the league tables and it's a dubious investment."

Despite the growing number of schools resorting to cash rewards, particularly at secondary level - the Bristol city academy spent pound;37,000 this year rewarding pupils who achieved five GCSE A*-C passes - research has shown that such rewards have a short-lived effect on motivation and are inflationary; pupils require greater and greater rewards for the same effort and become demotivated if the reward is withdrawn.

Mick Waters, who is in charge of the national curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and formerly chief education officer for Manchester and a primary head, says: "If you pay kids they will work for a little while, but eventually the effect wears off."

Extrinsic "drivers", he says, cannot replace good relationships between teachers and children: showing pupils you like them; that you want to know them; that you care to teach well and reward them with interesting lessons.

"When I was a head I used to send up the rewards system by giving "Zest"

rewards. These were bars of Zest soap, and I used to say, 'You've got loads of zest, here's a bar of soap'. The kids quite liked them, but what they liked most was sharing the joke, that you were taking the time to have a laugh with them."

Next week: Do teaching styles make a difference?

Friday magazine columnist Dr Raj Persaud is a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital, London, and author of The Motivated Mind (Bantam Press)

"Motivation lies at the heart of successful education, but it's a neglected subject. It's like the elephant in the living room; everyone feels its presence but no one mentions it. But truly motivated children will go on to teach themselves, and education then becomes very easy. Unmotivated childrenmake teachers' jobs unsatisfying and their classes a grinding bore to get through. One of the problems is that teachers are usually very motivated people and assume that everyone else is - or should be - too.

"Rewards as a motivational tool have to be treated with extreme caution.

Many schools and businesses offer extrinsic rewards for good work: chocolate bars or more time in the playground, for example. But psychologists have produced a vast body of material which raises serious questions about whether this is effective in the long run. Extrinsic rewards may work in the short term, but in the long run they may distract from the intrinsic benefit of being accomplished at a task.

"What's more, the reward has to be maintained or even increased in value to maintain its effectiveness. And if it is withdrawn, the person expecting it may become even more demotivated than they were before the reward was introduced. The most motivated people work very hard at something for no obvious reward. But they have very clear goals.

"All schools have to ask themselves whether children would continue working if the rewards were taken away. You want children to read because they can see the benefit of reading, not because they are going to get a reward.

"I think schools overlook the power of choice in motivating children. If you ask children what they want to achieve and what their goals are, then you can make them see that they have to make the right choices to achieve them."

How the Mind Works, page 21

Brian Smith, 46, is a self-employed plumber from Sunderland. His son Jack is in Year 5 at Broadway juniors, a local primary school. His daughter Emma, 12, started secondary school this year "I think primary children especially need to be rewarded for behaviour or achievement because the future, and what they might become, is so far away.

They need rewards in the here and now.

"My daughter went to Broadway juniors in Year 5. At the school before that, children were rarely rewarded or praised and Emma was very quiet and reticent. At Broadway she blossomed. The school gives lots of rewards, but in the form of trips to places of interest. Emma was taken to an artist's studio in Leeds and to Tate Modern; Jack went to Seven Stories in Newcastle (a national centre for the children's book). They were both knocked out by these. Jack wants to read books all the time and Emma is very turned on to art in her secondary school. She reads up on artists and she's come out of her shell.

"I don't approve, though, of schools giving money or material goods. At Emma's secondary they have a catalogue, and if you build up so many merits by the end of the year you can order, say, an MP3 player. To me that's a cop-out. It's the teachers washing their hands of it, because it doesn't require an investment of their time.

"At Broadway the rewards are largely educational, always extending the children and stimulating them that bit further."

Kelvin Omonfomah, 15, is a Year 10 pupil at Kingsdale school and performing arts college in the London borough of Southwark. He is taking six GCSEs, including English, maths and science, and hopes to study psychology after 16 and become a psychologist. He is involved with Youth Act, a citizenship initiative at the school aimed at improving the local community "I think rewards do motivate students, especially younger ones, and I think it's a good idea to give positions of responsibility as a reward, although not everybody wants responsibility (Kelvin wants to be a prefect). At my school we have trips as rewards for the whole year group if it has done something good. They are very popular.

"But schools also need to make pupils see that they are not working for the teachers but for themselves and their own futures. I think a lot of the rewards schools give, like money and goods, is like bribery: a carrot and stick. But many students work unnoticed; they don't get rewarded but they carry on working. These are the ones who should be acknowledged as an example to the rest.

"We get mentioned in newsletters if we have made a special achievement, and I like that. I think people like to be praised. It makes you feel good, and if someone else is praised it's good to have successful people to look up to. A lot of people at my school don't have success to look up to at home so they need it at school."

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