The ‘Carrot and Stick’ of Engagement

With the diverse, and sometimes contradictory educational theory at our disposal about what works and what doesn’t work to engage and interest students, and what works and what doesn’t work to improve outcomes for students, experienced (and new) teachers often integrate the old ‘Carrot and Stick’ into teaching.  Whether it’s the stick of calling home, detention, or extra work, or the carrot of rewards, grades, small prizes and so on, it’s a regular part of teaching.  And why not – our personal experience tells us that it works.

A model I come back to quite frequently is the spectrum of engagement by Phil Schlechty.  It’s a model that describes the engagement that students display at any particular moment, described by their attention to tasks (high, low or distracted) , and their commitment to tasks (high or low).  It’s a useful tool, for me, to working out what might motivate a student to work a little harder.  If you haven’t read about it, it might be worth having a bit of a read of this. Or at least the first part.

Linking back to the carrot and the stick, sometimes we know that they don’t work.  They don’t care about rewards, or the threat of punishment doesn’t do anything either.  The little diagram below came to me while thinking about this this afternoon, so I thought I’d jot it down and share it.


It’s been quite a while since I blogged.  I’ve missed it.  Mainly because it’s such a great way to organise my own thoughts, and the feedback on those thoughts is useful too.

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