This is a short extract from our new publication ‘The Small Book of Marginal Gain’ by Tim Sully…
Rewards should never be given to children who are naturally exhibiting a positive behavior anyway. If the Year 1 class are enjoying going out into the school grounds to look for bugs because they are naturally curious, issuing a reward ‘for the child who finds the most bugs’ will not enhance the experience. Issuing the reward will replace the intrinsic motivation the children feel in their curiosity driven behaviour. When the reward is withdrawn, the associated behavior goes as well. If you are not going to get a reward for looking, what’s the point? Often teachers get trapped in an escalating reward system which is hard to break out of and the children don’t really value anyway.
In 1998 Carol Dweck conducted a famous study on how praise can cause a loss of confidence. There is a short Youtube clip which graphically illustrates the main findings and it is well worth watching …
Stephen Grosz  describes the scene like this;
“After completing the first set of simple exercises, the researchers gave each child just one sentence of praise.
Some were praised for their intellect – ‘You did really well, you’re so clever’; and others for their hard work – ‘You did really well, you must have tried really hard.’
Then the researchers had the children try a more challenging set of problems.
The results were dramatic.
The students who were praised for their effort showed a greater willingness to work out new approaches. They also showed more resilience and tended to attribute their failures to insufficient effort, not lack of intelligence.
The children who were praised for their cleverness worried more about failure, tended to choose tasks which confirmed what they already knew, and displayed less tenacity when the problems got harder.
Ultimately, the thrill created by being told ‘You’re so clever’ gave way to an increase in anxiety and a drop in self esteem, motivation and performance.”
Grosz goes on to describe the behavior of ‘being present’ and this is when teachers create space and give their whole attention to a child. In this short extract, Grosz describes an interaction between eighty-year-old Charlotte Stiglitz who for many years taught remedial reading and a four year old child;
“ I once watched Charlotte with a four-year-old boy, who was drawing.
When he stopped and looked up at her –perhaps expecting praise –she smiled and said, ‘There is a lot of blue in your picture’.
He replied, ‘It’s a pond near my grandmother’s house – there is a bridge.’
He picked up a brown crayon and said, ‘I’ll show you.’
Unhurried, she talked to the child, but more importantly she observed, she listened.
She was present.”
For more information on rewards and the art of being present, please order the new publication, The Small Book of Marginal Gain, available now.Carol Dweck: The effect of praise on mindsets (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Ballantine Books, 26 Dec 2007)  Stephen Grosz : The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, (Chatto & Windus 2013).