This interesting story appeared in the Independent
of 3 October 2014.
"Bribing teenagers with cash to encourage them to work harder in their studies with the aim of gaining better grades does not improve their GCSE results, according to new research. The findings will come as a disappointment to parents who last year spent an estimated £4.2 million on cash incentives in an attempt to get their offspring to push themselves – and cast further doubt on controversial schemes introduced at some schools to offer pupils cash rewards. Researchers from Bristol University and the University of Chicago, who set up the large-scale trial of pupil incentives, concluded that parents and schools would do better to save their money and take struggling students on a day out instead."
Attempting to change behaviour through rewards and punishments is pure behaviourism
Readers of my posts and comments will be well aware of my view that Academisation and marketisation of our schools have lowered standards by substituting 'quick fix', exam-focussed teaching for the 'slow learning', cognitive development focussed teaching that leads to deep learning. See here
for more information.
So why don't bribes improve GCSE results? This is what the researchers concluded:
“The study suggests that while incentives can increase effort in the classroom, their direct impact on learning is low,” said Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation. “While incentives may change surface behaviours, what really makes the difference is how students are taught.”
I would put it like this. There is no doubt that punishments and rewards can change human behaviour. School pupils can be motivated by bribes and punishments to improve their attendance, homework completion and work rate, but this is not enough to get them to understand stuff they find confusing and difficult.
Learning and remembering reinforced by drill and practise, do not result in personal concept modification. This needs the slow, carefully designed approach of developmentalists like Michael Shayer and Philip Adey. You can't bribe a pupil into understanding something they just don't 'get'.
What is interesting is that the researchers found that, unlike bribes, 'school trips' apparently did bring about measurable improvements in exam performance in maths, even when the trip had nothing to do with maths.
This could be interpreted as 'school trips' being a 'bigger carrot' than a bribe, which is still a behaviourist explanation.
My explanation is different. I believe that understanding 'hard stuff', first requires the plastic general intelligence of learners to be sufficiently developed. Where this takes place then more sophisticated personal concepts can be built.
This is general and not context specific. Thus a trip to the Natural History Museum involving deep immersion in Darwinian Natural Selection could help a KS4 pupil understand quadratic equations.
This is obviously a gross over-simplification, but that is the idea. So if schools want their students to get better maths grades then there should be more school trips. Sounds good to me. However what is really needed is a complete review of the curriculum and approaches to teaching and learning.
It is not going to happen so long as our education system is driven by the ideology of marketisation.
Are you reading this Ed and Tristram?