How to motivate without excessive praise

Not so long ago it was the stick that was out of favour … now it’s the carrot. Or at least, too many carrots.

But is it possible to motivate children without devaluing your praise?

It is no mean feat trying to nurture confident children with a realistic view of the world, whilst they are exposed to the almost unavoidable media coverage of social extremes. War coverage and third world poverty on the news to entertainment such as X Factor and Cribs convey a dichotomy that can leave children feeling very unsure of where they belong in the world and what power they have over their futures.

So, how can teachers instill a grounded confidence in our children?

You can show them 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 them 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.


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