Over the past year and a half I have changed my opinion about award ceremonies for students. It was a great shift for me. My new thoughts on award ceremonies has lead to many debates with other educators as well as friends. I submit that award ceremonies do far more harm than good because they do not provide the best conditions for a learning environment. Moreover, trying to bribe students with extrinsic motivators like awards damages intrinsic motivation.
Below I provide some of the reasons others believe awards are good and my rebuttal. I also provide some reasons why they are bad. Moreover, I include some excellent quotes from other blog posts which have inspired me to write this one and some links of my favorite posts on the subject.
1. Students need a role model to look to:
Students will not see somebody that beats them for an award as a role model. They will see them as competition and somebody they have to beat in the future. Role models do not need to be given an award to be looked upon as a role model.
2. Awards are the real world:
I am not sure where one would get the idea that there are a lot of awards in a person’s day to day life. We do not have a teacher of the year award in our school or district, so why should we have such awards for students? Moreover, the awards that are given out in the adult world, many would argue,are based on politics, not merit. I am not trying to take anything away from any adult that deserved an award here, just pointing out that many awards are given based on who you know.
3. Giving everyone an award cheapens awards:
This comment is irrelevant if awards are eliminated. I like the term recognition instead of awards. As teachers we want each and every student to improve in his/her learning. Recognizing each student’s growth makes more sense to me than choosing just one and isolating the rest.
Teachers are supposed to help each student grow and learn. They should not choose one over another, but create the conditions that help each child flourish in his/her class. How can one create those conditions if some students are given awards over another? This is not inclusion. It takes a paradigm shift to get away from awards. Why would we isolate many for the sake of a few?
The main goal in my class is learning. Classrooms set up based on the goal of competing for an award (and rewards) hurt learning. As Alfie Kohn notes in his article, Is Competition Ever Appropriate in a Cooperative Classroom?:
“Competing reduces the probability that cooperation, which does promote learning, will take place; it generates anxiety; it leads children to attribute their victory or loss to factors beyond their control, such as innate ability or luck, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will try harder next time; and it functions as an extrinsic motivator, reducing interest in the task and creative performance just as other artificial inducements have been repeatedly shown to do.
Further, Kohn says,“Researchers have found that competitive structures reduce generosity, empathy, sensitivity to others' needs, accuracy of communication, and trust.”
By no means is my list exhaustive of the reasons why awards cause harm and hurt learning. I do hope that others who feel awards are a positive thing reflect on the practice of awards.
To end this post I would like to share a few quotes and links from some of my Twitter friends who have written about this topic:
“So my question is: why are we still having huge ceremonies that award a select few and fail to recognize so many strengths, talents, and interest of our students?” Chris Wejr
“Awards eventually lose their luster to students that get them, while often hurting the self-esteem and pride of those who don’t.” George Couros
"School as family:
I have shown my belief that we want to create a family environment in our school. I do not have my own kids, but I do not remember my mom and dad annually or semi-annually recognizing our achievements as their children (it would be so easy to make a brother joke here but I am going to refrain). As parents, it is important to let your kids know when you are seeing good things from your kids, WHEN you are seeing them. I also do not remember my mom and dad sorting us by who did what better in our family. We each had our own unique gifts as kids in my family, and we were recognized for that. Should it not be the same in a school? Does the term “caring and safe” match with “ranking and sorting”? Awards definitely lend to the latter and do nothing to create that caring and safe environment." George Couros
"Some of the most thankful parents are those who have children who would never be invited to be recognized by their school's honor ceremonies." Joe Bower
Recognizing the Valedictorian in All by Principal Eric Sheninger
A New Era of Ceremonies by Chris Wejr
Death of an Awards Ceremony by Chris Wejr
Shared Decisions and Abolishing Awards by Chris Wejr
The Impact of Awards by George Couros
Unconditional Recognition by Joe Bower
The Problem with Award Ceremonies by David Wees