Sunday, May 6, 2012

Can You Teach Without Using Carrots?

Carrots on display at local greengrocer
Carrots on display at local greengrocer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was recently talking with a first grade teacher about teaching and motivating students.  She told me a story about a lesson where she had spent a good bit of time talking about cows in her classroom.  At the end of the discussion, one of her highly motivated and very attentive students raised her hand and inquired, “I forget, is it the boy cow or the girl cow that has gutters?”  At least, she grasped the concept even if she was a little iffy on the vocabulary!

I’ve written a blog post or two about teaching and motivating children.  This is always an ongoing concern among educators; however, I recently read a blog on Connected Principals  written by Chris Wejr entitled, Engaging Without Carrots and Sticks that really nailed it.  Here’s the link:   It stated that students come to school ready and eager to learn but that the educational system often replaces intrinsic motivation with external motivators, “carrots” as they called them in the post.  In other words, tokens, rewards, prizes, grades, etc.  In other words we sabotage our own environment by establishing these reward systems. Children become dependent on outside forces in order to be motivated and without them they lose their curiosity and motivation.  Without arguing about whether this is so or not, what would we replace these carrots with?  Here’s the suggestions for motivators that teachers can use:

  • ·       Great teachers develop a relationship with their students. They get to know their students and students get to know their teachers.  Because they know and understand their students, they celebrate their strengths.
  • ·       Great teachers give students ownership of their learning--Teachers are responsible for providing a creative learning environment, but ultimately students have responsibility for taking the initiative.
  • ·       Great teachers give students a choice-while students don’t always have a choice about  what it is necessary to learn (because of curriculum requirements teachers don't have that choice either!), they can have a choice in many aspects of how, when and where they learn. 
  • ·       Great teachers make their lessons relevant to students’ current interests and their lives.  This doesn’t mean that they have to be knowledgeable about every current fad, only that they  relate the information to the practical world.
  • ·       Great teachers ensure success for each student by working in their strengths and encouraging them to recognize and maximize them.

     What do you think about using the above as 'carrots' rather than the usual extrinsic rewards.  Would it work? I'd love to hear your experience...


  1. Hi, Lynne! ~

    You've stumbled on one of my pet peeves. I'm frustrated in settings where the kids have been promised a 'prize' if they participate in art class!

    The first time I heard of this I was flabbergasted! A kid says to me, "What's the prize if I do art?" I replied, "The prize is ART!" He shrugged and happily got to work.

  2. Working with kids' natural curiosity and instilling a love for learning should be the major focus in teaching. When a child would ask me something like, "What will I get for doing this?", I would answer, "The satisfaction of knowing you've accomplished something on your own."
    We have to encourage them to be self-motivated.
    Great post as always, Lynne!

  3. @ Linda--I agree, we've gone overboard with prizes and rewards. And not just for children. Adults often want to know, "What's in it for me?" as well.
    @Martha--Great point! Successful children and adults are self-motivated
    @J.R Nova-thanks for stopping by.