Behavior Management: Locus of Control

Understand the difference between praise and encouragement and when to use each method as a form of motivation for your students.
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Updated on: February 1, 2007
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To Reward or Not To Reward?

Some teachers use tangible rewards to motivate their students. They may give stickers, smiley faces, coupons, patches, gold stars, and the like as motivational tools. The practice of providing these tangible rewards has been a consistent one in education.

But there are some controversies surrounding the use of tangible rewards:

  • They are a form of external control; one person controls the behavior of another.

  • They do not foster an internal locus of control.

  • They are a form of bribery or coercion.

  • The more rewards teachers give, the more rewards students come to expect.

  • Students often do work for the rewards rather than for the learning that may occur.

  • Some experts see rewards as a way of manipulating and controlling people. They equate it with the way we train animals—do a trick and get a treat.

Early in my teaching career, I used to give lots of gold stars and smelly stickers. Over the years, I've rethought the value of those external rewards and have talked with many teachers. I've reached some new conclusions I'd like to share with you:

Fire Alarm

Be sure the rewards are appropriate for the task. A free book for the completion of a math worksheet might be a little over the top.

  • Emphasize encouragement more than praise. But if you have to, emphasize praise more than rewards.

  • Don't make rewards a regular condition of learning. Make it an unexpected part of tasks that students find unattractive or boring.

  • If you decide to use rewards, use them for the completion of a task not for a student's participation in that task.

Think carefully about the value of rewards in your classroom. Are there other ways of motivating students that do not involve tangible items? Rewards are often based on criteria established by teachers, not students. The best motivation comes from an internal source, and in a classroom, that encourages responsibility and self-determination.

But They're Not Motivated!

Every teacher gets them; you will, too. They are the unmotivated students, those who could care less about the lesson, class, or school in general. How do you deal with the unmotivated?

First, consider the elements presented in Motivating Your Students. That type of motivational classroom might be just the incentive for your unmotivated students (who may be reacting to their previous expectations of how teachers act or how classrooms are run) to make changes in their own behavior. You might also consider these additional ideas:

Expert Opinion

Relate academic tasks to students' lives. They might never ask you why they have to learn something, but you should always give them the answer.

  • Create an atmosphere of puzzlement and novelty in your teaching. Tap into students' natural curiosity with unusual events. (“Has anyone ever seen a creature covered in slime? I have one right here in this box.”)

  • Use a combination of both individual and group projects. Provide opportunities for students to share and discuss in groups as well as opportunities to work on their own.

  • Periodically invite students to meet and discuss any barriers to their learning (time, textbook, teacher, rules, etc.).

  • Ensure numerous opportunities for students to set their own goals. Keep those goals realistic, and be sure to start with tiny steps before moving to larger goals.

  • Be especially vigilant for opportunities to encourage (more so than praise) learning accomplishments.

  • Model your enthusiasm for learning. Let students see your excitement for a task or assignment.

  • It's critical that students know you're working for their benefit, not for a paycheck. Be encouraging and supportive in all your contacts with an unmotivated student. As soon as you give up, so will the student.

  • Variety is the spice of life. Use different strategies, various techniques, and a potpourri of methods.

  • Provide frequent offers of help (“I don't know; let's see what we can discover together”).

  • Be willing to accept (and celebrate) different viewpoints. (“That's not what I had in mind; could you please explain your position?”)

  • Students who are turned off to learning are often turned off to authority. Don't be dictatorial or authoritative. Create an invitational, cooperative climate in your classroom, one without intimidation or threats.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher
Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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