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How Punishment Influences Student Motivation

How Punishment Influences Student Motivation | ITTT | TEFL Blog

There is no denying that psychology plays a vital role in child-rearing and student education. Parents, teachers, and other learning institutions consult and practice different child-rearing and teaching techniques that are all grounded from various studies and theories presented by several well-known psychologists in the likes of Ivan Pavlov, John Watson, Edward Thorndike, Carl Rogers, and B.F. Skinner. All these practices are done with one objective in mind and that is finding out which is the most effective when it comes to promoting child motivation and discipline. Taking into consideration that there is no clean-cut way on how to rear and teach a child, these multiple practices of rearing and teaching spark debates on its effectiveness—and one prime example of this is the effectiveness of giving reward versus serving punishment as a form of child management. These methods provide people in authority with leverage when working with both disruptive, and driven students. These things are done and considered through the lens of a parent or a teacher with most as their objective is to meet a certain learning standard or behavior. But, have we ever considered how these reward and punishment systems affect children in the long run? How such practices affect students in terms of how they see life and finding their motivation in accomplishing tasks given to them?

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jesus C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Research Evidence

In an article written by Robin McDaniel titled Theories of Motivation in Education, he defined motivation as a force used within the educational system to encourage student learning and understanding. Furthermore, in the educational setting, motivation is either an internal force or an external force. Also, Ames (1990) commented, “Motivation is important because it contributes to achievement, but it is also important itself as an outcome,” meaning to say that it is vital to building amongst students the idea that the results of their actions can equate to motivation, a motivation to do better for themselves. But then again, how do teachers see motivation as a factor in student learning, with which it is safe to say that most see it according to the principle that behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. It follows the well-known practice called Operant Conditioning proposed by B.F. Skinner.

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Parents-Teachers’ Participation

In a typical classroom setting and most often at times at home, both teachers and parents make use of positive and negative reinforcements as a form of discipline. A child will be given a reward if he shows positive behavior and if he performs well in an activity. Along with this, punishment is then inflicted when rules are not followed and if the activity was not properly performed with the punishments or consequences usually involved withholding something the child enjoys. Though rewards motivate students to participate in school, the reward may become their only motivation, and fear of punishment may cause a student to work simply to accomplish things without truly understanding or appreciating the purpose of the activity. In other words, students do tasks and behave in class just to get positive feedback and avoid being punished or reprimanded without them seeing the bigger picture or purpose of their lessons.

McDaniel (2019) stated that students who are externally motivated are more likely to see the teacher, environment, instructional materials, or other external force as a reason for their failure. These students have an external source of control and will tend to see their failure as a totality rather than a one-time mistake. Their self-esteem may suffer greatly due to this lack of cognitive focus and internal awareness. They tend to believe that their failure is related to their lack of ability, and they are more likely to give up if they do not achieve success continually. This notion is also apparent in a study conducted by Ahmad, Said, and Khan (2013), they found out that students who are subjected to punishment are less motivated toward learning than those who are encouraged and not corporally punished. Meaning to say that students who are punished and discouraged hesitate to actively participate in classroom activities which greatly decreases their motivation for learning.

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It is suggested that teachers should avoid punishment to maintain discipline or to ensure student learning. Instead, teachers may look for other constructive alternatives such as student engagement by creating a supportive learning environment. Though rewards motivate students to participate in school, this may become their only motivation. If you choose to implement rewards in your classroom, keep an eye out for students who may need encouragement to do their best. Keeping in mind the comment of Ames (1990) that motivation is also important itself as an outcome, teachers should sow the seed of self-motivation by helping them realize that having a negative result or an outcome less than what is expected is part of growing and learning similar with the gratifying result of having a positive outcome in any endeavors.

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