Carrots and Sticks

Ms. Mentor recently wrote about offering a class reward if, for a whole semester, no one asked a question whose answer could be found in the syllabus. A community-college accounting professor told me that she gives a giant candy bar to those few students who receive 100-percent test scores. I thought both of these ideas were fun and motivational.

I have two sons—one driven by a strong internal compass of right and wrong. He’s still young, but he doesn’t need many external rewards or punishments. His brother is the complete opposite, needing both carrots and sticks to get anything done.

Given the conundrums of extra credit, what other kinds of motivation have you used with students? I am more of a negative-reinforcement giver and think that I would do well to try to change a bit. Simply saying that an assignment will be worth more points if it’s turned in by a certain date, rather than that a grade deduction will be given to assignments that are turned in late, might be worth a try.

In the perfect academic dream world, all students are deeply, intrinsically motivated to make excellent choices at all times out of a sheer love of learning. In the real world, however, professors sometimes need to nudge them to be their best selves.

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