Thursday, November 29, 2012

Students Not Turning In Assignments? Try Rewards

One of the more frustrating challenges I notice concerns students who do not (or forget to) turn in assignments to their teachers.  Within this category, the most frustrating situations involve students who did the work, brought it to school, know where it is, yet still seem to forget to have it ready to turn in.  The majority of the responses, that I have observed, from teachers is to attach some sort of punishment (loss of credit, point deductions, a note home to parents) to the forgetting of the assignment.

However, I wonder if taking the opposite approach might get better results.  Instead of a punishment for those who do not turn in the work, give a reward to those who do.

This idea will have some resistance.  There are those who believe are that rewarding what "should happen" sends a wrong message - that rewards should be given to those who do outstanding work, not those who do what is expected.  I agree that students who do "above and beyond" work should be recognized, but given what is being discovered about motivation and reward, shouldn't we consider a slightly adjusted approach?  In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, we are presented with a research based argument that we should.

Without going into great detail, Mr. Pink's work basically describes how for low level/manual repetitive type activities, external rewards have been shown to increase production.  For more complex or creative tasks, external rewards have not shown to increase productivity.  The key to applying this thesis to turning in school assignments is to decide if the act  of turning it in is a low or high level function.

Turning in assignments, it seems to me, is a low level basic function which seems to fit nicely into the category of items that are enhanced by direct external rewards.  If so, would teachers have better results (fewer assignments not turned in) if a simple reward was given?
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