What's Happening in Character?

What is the impact of awards programs on students?

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Sun, Jun 7, 2009 @ 18:06 PM

Lara Maupin, Associate Director of the National Schools of Character, reflects on her son's feelings about end-of year awards. We welcome your comments on the value of awards and how best to foster intrinsic motivation. Click on the comment button below to responds.

It is that awards assembly time of year again, and many schools with an interest in character education, such as the public elementary school my own children attend, are giving out awards to students for exemplifying core values such as honesty, respect, and responsibility. In my work at CEP, I have encountered many such programs that I would consider effective and thoughtfully implemented.

My 10-year-old son received such awards for most of his years in elementary school but did not last year or again this year. Spurred by recent debate over the possible unintended negative consequences of such awards on young children, I asked my son how he felt about not receiving an award for honesty or one of the other values again this year.

He said, “It makes me feel like my teachers don’t notice the good things I do. They focus on the bad.”

That really made me think. Not because I worry about my son’s self esteem or because I think every kid should get a trophy for just showing up. Because I don’t. My son plays baseball and is an actor: he’s resilient. But I also know he struggles each and every day to do his best and be a good kid, and if these awards make him think his teachers don’t see this in him, I have to question their value.

So I ask, what is the impact of such awards or other “caught being good” programs on students, some of whom may be struggling with issues that make just keeping it all together at school an accomplishment? What are the best ways to foster intrinsic motivation and commitment to core values in students? For those who value and implement such recognition programs, how do you reflect on these issues and ensure that your programs do not unintentionally cause harm?

Topics: CEPLeaders