In order to understand the role that recognitions play in meeting a kid's need for competence, and in general how we can promote competence in kids , I decided to share here Alfie Kohn on competence from his classic ' Punished by Rewards'.
When we give school kids ' recognitions' for their achievements we ought to boost interest in learning tasks since 'recognitions ' offer evidence that a job has been done well, which makes the kid feel competent, which in turn is highly motivating .
According to the research however, 'recognitions' have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. The problem is that they are judgmental and controlling. They are destructive of autonomy because not only control what kids can do but how well they have to do it.
When we comment , compliment, or recognize what kids have done we need to keep in mind 2 principles .
– do the comments help the kid feel a sense of control over his life, encouraging him to reflect and make his own judgments of what constitutes a good performance or are we attempting to manipulate his behavior by getting him to think about whether he has met our criteria?
Intrinsic motivation -
Do our comments trigger kids to become more deeply involved in what he is doing – improving competence or do they turn the task into something he does to win approval or prove his competence.?
The problem with feedback , -even when it is done right – informational in a neutral tone- , is that it can be interpreted as verbal praise when it is positive feedback ,or criticism when it is negative feedback. It is not easy to strip the information from its emotional weight and this is especially difficult for kids who are less intrinsically motivated. Instead of criticism, we can frame the interaction as cps – collaborative problem solving focusing on solving problems and finding ways to improve. Instead of kids using our positive feedback to experience a ' good feeling ' of perceived competence ( which in any case lasts only for 2 minutes ), we can help them regard feedback as information they can use in the process of learning.
The way to go is to bring kids in on the evaluation process that focuses on the learning process rather than achievement. They can participate in determining the criteria by which their learning can be assessed and have them do much of the actual assessment as is practical. Ak quotes Mark Lepper – that to a considerable one's perception of competence at an activity will depend on .. whether one has to succeed by his or her own standards or by someone else's.
It is important that kids get informational, non-evaluative feedback about their academic progress and classroom conduct but more important to motivation is to provide them opportunities to learn new skills, improve their existing skills and to acquire and demonstrate competence. Demonstrating competence is more about the process , proving competence is more about achievement , grades and awards. And of course the content – curriculum should try to be engaging, enjoyable, meaningful and relevant. Competence can be improved across many skills but having a variety of tasks that require different skills and provide the right amount of challenge. In this way we give kids an opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment. That feeling of having worked at something and mastered it , of being competent, is an essential ingredient of successful learning. And, as one researcher notes ' classrooms that provide a variety of concrete activities for many learning ability levels do not need reward stickers or praise to encourage learning.
I prefer that schools focus on helping kids improve and learn new skills- acquiring a growth mindset ( rather than be busy proving competence ) , be given opportunities to give expression to these skills in meaningful ways and participate in assessing the process, their contributions and work.
The questions of self worth, esteem and accomplishment are relevant when they are missing. When they exist, we don't think about them and if we do , they are just moments of good feeling. Maybe it is also about a confidence that a kid with a growth mindset has when attempting new tasks and challenges but still it is focusing on me as a process.
The important thing to note according to AK is that it's true that recognition isn't always extrinsic, it's also true that competence doesn't always require recognition (from others) and the two ideas shouldn't be conflated. We run the risk of that conflation when we overlook the substantial difference between recognition from others and from oneself.