1. Have you read Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers? I finally bucked up this year and read it.

    Nearly everything you’re saying fits into what he advocates for in education. It’s dry, but a must for teachers.

    Specifically, your comment on awards vs challenge – I found Hattie’s ideas on challenge and engagement spot on. If you’ve read it, I’d be eager to hear your thoughts.

  2. Becky

    Every year I dread Awards Day. Something inside me knew it was wrong. Thank you for helping me understand why.

  3. Gary Bau

    Unfortunately this view is held by a seemingly small proportion of teachers. Math teachers even fewer, going by the overwhelmingly negative views of school mathematics…

    So what to do?
    Dinosaur solution..if we wait long enough the old thinking will die out.
    Civil war..fight on the issue at every opportunity
    Benign resistance..do what we can, when we can without catastrophic disagreements jeopardising our employment.

    None of these are satisfactory, however until education rather than schooling is the focus there appears little alternative.

  4. Charles Martin

    George, I love reading your posts because you constantly inspire educators to challenge the status quo. I hear your message loud and clear: you would like educators to be more intentional, thoughtful and actionable. You are someone that isn’t as much interested in educational debates as you are interested in educational reforms that are always in the best interest of students. You walk the talk and your actions speak louder than your words. Thank you for your inspiration.

  5. Mark Grundel

    In my classroom, I do give awards, but they are not focused on grades or academics. I see awards as a fun way to celebrate individual students, their interests, and strengths. If I have a student who did some amazing work and projects in Minecraft he or she may get the CraftMaster Award. Another child who really loves singing and brought music in might be the Dynamic Diva (I am kind of big on alliterative awards). And for the kid who can sit still and is always standing at his desk dancing, he might get the SmoothMoves Award. My awards are silly and fun, but each is personalized for the child. I admit that sometimes creating 20 awards is a challenge, but it makes each kid feel special and unique. Great post!

  6. Dylan Smith

    Speaking personally, I quite like the idea of year-end award traditions. For close to 20 years now, the Ontario Principals’ Council has funded a “Principal’s Award” for student leadership in every public school in the province. School staffs that decide to go further and recognize other students with other awards do so from a positive mindset. Assuming that selection criteria and process are judicious and transparent, issues can be addressed with clear, sensitive communication. My hope for all students would be that every single one of them can happily celebrate a few of their peers for exceptional achievement in (traditionally) designated categories. Perhaps a middle road would be to involve the student body in choosing some or all of the award recipients. I have seen that work very well in a large K-8.

  7. C

    I love the simplicity and hard core truth of this article! Conformity is great, I figured out the educational system at an early age. Now, I am an adult exploring life and contemplating on what I could do to make a difference. I agree that we create the expectations and children usually come up to them; rather good or bad. Great stuff here!

  8. @PaulWat5

    I agree with ‘awards’ and prefer acknowledgements as a better system for developing attributes. Nothing wrong with public shows of achievement or attainment, just high stakes, once a year awards based on a top of the pile value is not helpful as your quoted acceptance speech shows.

    My daughter is a Netball player, a good one at that, and for those not aware of the game in has fixed positions and areas in which only certain players can operate. She has learnt through this the value of the need for different strengths and assets to achieve a goal or result. Her strengths are different to her teammates and makes her best suited to her position, yet she can perform in others just not to overall benefit of the team. Her coaches make her feel valuable, encouraging her to improve to be the best she can at what she does well.

  9. P.L. Down

    Interesting and good points to think about. Do Awards teach prepare students for later life experiences? Looking at my own school experiences, choosing to teach as a second career in my 40s and watching my own sons move through to post secondary education, what actually prepares us for potential bumps that are ahead. Are our graduating students prepared not to be accepted into the post secondary choice they wish whether continuing school, apprenticeships or employment? Will students handle not receiving a job interview or the actual job? At some point students need to be prepared for not being chosen. With the increase in mental health issues seen at the post secondary level by students and young people heading into their futures unable to handle defeat, we must question are our educational practices helping or hindering?

  10. I just finished the book Troublemakers, by Carla Shalaby. It follows four first graders through a year at a ‘good’ school and tries to figure out why we label them as troublemakers. It also personalizes the issue with forced conformity. I don’t think I’ve fully processed all of the book yet, but it was clearly thought-provoking. I’m still trying to figure out how a school can use the ideas I gleaned on a wider basis, because they are very individualized to the students. But I think that’s the point. The balance between individuals and classes and schools and the structures for those things are different, yet we try to make them all the same, thus conformity. I’m hoping to find more people to discuss this with soon.

  11. Thank you for this post. These are issues that i know many teachers grapple with. After my son’s Awards Evening last year I was promoted to write this blogpost https://aboxofthistles.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/prize-giving-celebrating-success-or-stigmatising-failure/ in which I think I quoted your earlier post about awards. I was criticised by some and acknowledged positively by others for writing it and then publishing it. I was told that I wasn’t supporting the school and it’s values. I believe that sometimes the arguments ‘we have always done it this way’, ‘it’s tradition’, ‘that’s life’, and ‘students need something to aim for’, block more creative thinking around how we could celebrate learning for all our students.

  12. rani altoum

    Thank you for this inspiring post. I push my son to do his best to achieve the best learner or best achiever every year. However, as an educator and as a parent I always feel that there is something wrong with awards ceremonies. Despite the role of recognition in fostering positive attitudes among students, giving awards to some students has a devastating psychological effect on non-awarded students. Dweck (2015) emphasized that teachers and parents must foster growth mindset among children not by praising only the outcomes, but by praising efforts too. It is very important for all of us to praise and recognize the process of learning in relation to the expected outcomes.

    Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck Revisits the’Growth Mindset’. Education Week, 35(5), 20-4.

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