Do awards lower student motivation levels?

This past year, the staff of a 7th-9th grade school in British Columbia decided unanimously to eliminate all student awards, based on research and experience that shows that awards eliminate students’ intrinsic motivation.

The research shows that awards are not just bad because some students are disappointed; they are actually harmful to the winners as well. The “scramble” to defeat peers creates an environment not conducive to learning and long-term teamwork. In addition, awards tend to be exclusionary, with the same students receiving them time and again. This can lead to anger, resentment, boredom, and ultimately, lower motivation.

Instead, Chilliwack Middle School focused on things that would excite and motivate all students, so they were learning for the sake of learning, and not for a prize. This past May, they hosted a “success showcase,” where every student participated by sharing their unique skills and interests. Some performed, some had created art, some showed off their sports prowess.

You may have read about intrinsic motivation in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. If you have not read it, pick it up – it’s truly fascinating, and many of the findings are, at least initially, surprising.

In the meantime, check out this article about Chilliwack and share your thoughts below.


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