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Rewards and Punishments in the PrimarySchool: Pupils Perceptions and TeachersUsageA. Harrop & T. WilliamsPublished online: 19 Oct 2007.
To cite this article: A. Harrop & T. Williams (1992) Rewards and Punishments in the Primary School:Pupils Perceptions and Teachers Usage, Educational Psychology in Practice: theory, research andpractice in educational psychology, 7:4, 211-215, DOI: 10.1080/0266736920070404
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Rewards and Punishmentsin the Primary School: Pupils'Perceptions and Teachers'UsageBy A. Harrop and T. Williams
SummaryThe pupils and the teachers of years 5 and 6 in twoprimary schools were presented with a list of rewardsand a list of punishments. The pupils ranked each list interms of effectiveness and the teachers ranked in terms ofusefulness. The results showed virtually zero correlationsbetween the rankings of the pupils and the teachers. Aclose examination of the results suggests that whilst somediscrepancies may be attributable to the difference in thetask set to the two groups, other discrepancies indicatethat the teachers should reappraise their practices.
IntroductionThe usage of rewards and punishments in schoolshas been a subject of discussion since schools began.In the 1950s, Highfield and Pinsent (1952), workingin primary and secondary schools, examined the per-ceptions of pupils and teachers on the effectivenessof rewards and punishments and found considerablediscrepancies. Most notably, they found that thereward considered most effective by pupils butnot by teachers, was 'a favourable report senthome', and that indicators of personal successfulachievement were ranked most highly by pupils,whereas the teachers ranked most highly thoserewards concerned with adult approval. In a laterreplication, Burns (1978) found similar results.More recently, Caffyn (1987), Branwhite (1988)
and Houghton, Merrett and Wheldall (1988), haveobtained broadly similar results from secondaryschool pupils and teachers.
Care has to be taken however, in interpreting whatare essentially the results of a series of correlationalstudies, so that, for example, it cannot be assumednecessarily that what a pupil signifies to be effectivein answer to a questionnaire will be effective inclassroom practice. On the other hand, there is someevidence that suggests that pupils' written answersare not too far off the mark. In a direct test of pupils'stated preferences for some kind of favourablewritten communication home, Harrop and McCann(1983) used 'a letter to parents telling of theiroffspring's progress' as the reward for improvedreading comprehension, with secondary school pu-pils. The pupils were naturally informed about thisreward in advance. The results showed that the pu-pils improved their reading comprehension scores byfar more than did a control group. In a further inves-tigation, Harrop and McCann (1984) used the samereward as part of a package of rewards in improvingthe 'creative writing' of secondary school pupils.
In research on a much larger scale, Rutter et al(1979), working in secondary schools, found thatrewards tended to be associated with better pupiloutcomes, whilst punishments were associated withvariable outcomes. Rather surprisingly, however, inview of these associations, and of teachers' stated
Educational Psychology in Practice Vol 7, No 4, January 1992 211
beliefs in the effectiveness of adult approval,Rutter et al (1979) found from their classroomobservations that reprimands were used twice asfrequently as praise.
White (1975) in the USA found that verbaldisapproval exceeded verbal approval at all gradelevels beyond the age of six, whilst Thomas etal (1978) in New Zealand, found that for pupilsaged 11 to 13, the ratio of disapproval to approvalused by teachers was approximately 3 : 1. In Britishprimary schools, however, a more recent study byMerrett and Wheldall (1987), found slightly moreapproval than disapproval, particularly with respectto academic behaviour.
Findings such as those referred to above suggesta rather complex relationship not only betweenteachers' and pupils' views of the effectivenessof various rewards and punishments, but alsobetween the teachers' views and teachers' usage. Inpractice, a fruitful area of investigation seems to liein comparing teachers' usage with pupil views of theeffectiveness of various rewards and punishments.The following investigation was designed to explorethat comparison.
The Setting and QuestionnaireAgreement was obtained from the headteachers oftwo primary schools in the Liverpool area for aninvestigation into reward preferences. Both schoolswere in areas such that their pupils came mainlyfrom lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Initially, a sample questionnaire was presented tostaff of the schools for discussion. The aim was toproduce a list of 10 rewards and 10 punishmentsused by both schools. As a result of discussionssome items were removed, some modified and someinserted. The questionnaire developed comprisedthe following items:
Praise in front of other pupilsPrivate praiseGood marksGood written comments on your workMentioned in assemblyPraised by other pupilsWhole class praisedMerit/house points given by your teacherParents informed about your good behaviourHaving work on display
PunishmentsBeing told off in front of the classBeing told off in privateBeing sent to see the headteacherTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behav-iour in privateTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behav-iour in front of the classKept in at playtimeBeing moved to another seat in the classroomParents informed about naughty behaviourTaking unfinished work homeBeing stopped from going on a school trip
Since the aim of the investigation was to compareteachers' usage of rewards and punishments withpupils' views of effectiveness, the wording on theinstructions varied between the groups so as toemphasise that difference. Pupils were asked to rankthe 10 rewards (punishments) in turn beginning withthe instruction:
Put a ' 1 ' in the bracket beside the one you thinkwould help you work better in school.
Teachers were given the following instruction:
Please rank from 1 to 10 the most useful one tothe least useful one.
Subjects and AdministrationBoth schools had two classes in each of years fiveand six, giving a total of 84 boys and 97 girls. Thequestionnaire was administered to each class and toeach of the eight teachers of the classes.
Results1. Pupil RelationshipsSpearman's rank correlation coefficients were cal-culated (a) between the pupils in the two schools,without reference to gender, (b) between the gen-ders within the two schools, (c) within the gendersbetween the schools. Table 1 shows the results.
The data in the table shows that:
1. Overall between schools there is more agree-ment on punishments than on rewards, and
2. in general, there is more agreement betweenthe genders within schools than there is withinthe genders between the schools.
For each school, Spearman's rank correlationcoefficients were calculated between the means ofteachers' rankings and the means of their pupils'rankings for both rewards and punishments. Theresults are displayed in Table 2.
212 Educational Psychology in Practice Vol 7, No 4, January 1992
Table 1. Correlation Coefficients Between the Various Groups of Pupils
Between GendersSchool A School B
Between SchoolsGirls Boys
* indicates significance beyond the 0.05 level, ** beyond the 0.01 level
Table 2. Correlation Coefficients Between the Teachers and the Pupils Rankings in Each School
School A School B
A scrutiny of Table 2 shows four, very lowcorrelation coefficients.
The mean rankings for each of the 10 rewardsand the 10 punishments was calculated for bothpupils and teachers. Tables 3 and 4 display thesedata.
DiscussionThe correlations between the pupils on rewardsand punishments ranged from modest (0.5) to quite
high (0.89). By comparison, correlations betweenpupils and teachers were extremely low. Taken inthe context of the very low correlations existingbetween pupils' and teachers' rankings, the variationbetween pupil correlations is not worth exploringin any detail, save to note that, in general, thecorrelations between genders within schools seemsto be stronger than the correlations between schools,within genders. The very low correlations betweenthe pupils' and the teachers' rankings are not,however, necessarily caused by any misperception
Table 3. Mean Order of Effectiveness as Ranked by Pupils Table 4. Mean Order of Usage as Ranked by Teachers
Parents informed about your good behaviourGood written comments on your workGood marksHaving work on displayMentioned in assemblyPrivate praisePraised in front of other pupilsWhole class praisedMerit/House points given by teacherPraised by other pupils
Parents informed about naughty behaviourBeing stopped from going on a school tripBeing sent to see the headteacherBeing told off in front of the classTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behaviour infront of the classTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behaviourin privateTaking unfinished work homeBeing told off in privateKept in at playtimeBeing moved to another seat in the classroom
Praised in front of other pupilsMerit/House points given by your teacherMentioned in assemblyGood written comments on your workPrivate praiseHaving work on displayWhole class praisedParents informed about your good behaviourGood marksPraised by other pupils
Being told off in front of the classParents informed about naughty behaviourBeing told off in privateTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behaviourin privateTeacher explaining what is wrong with your behaviour infront of classBeing sent to see the headteacherKept in at playtimeBeing moved to another seat in the classroomBeing stopped from going on a school tripTaking unfinished work home
Educational Psychology in Practice Vol 7, No 4, January 1992 213
between the groups, since a different question wasasked of each group. Pupils were asked aboutthe effectiveness and teachers about their usageof rewards and punishments.
In the case of rewards, the pupils were instructedto rank in terms of 'would be most likely to helpyou work better in school', whilst teachers wereinstructed in terms of 'usefulness'.
The largest discrepancies between the two setsof rankings occur for 'parents informed aboutyour good behaviour', and 'good marks', both ofwhich pupils rated highly and teachers did not,and conversely, 'praised in front of other pupils',and 'merit/house points', both rated higher by theteachers than by the pupils.
It may be the case that the teachers appreciatethat informing parents of good behaviour is felt tobe very rewarding by the pupils but that they seeit as a technique to be used rarely, since it may bethat if such a technique were used frequently, itseffectiveness might wane. That the technique can beeffective is strongly suggested in the previously citedwork of Harrop and McCann (1983 and 1984).
The observed discrepancy for 'good marks', maywell be explained by the fact that such marks canonly be gained by good work so that the teachersfeel that the pupils need to earn the marks. Thatis quite an understandable position yet the highranking by the pupils does point perhaps to a morepositive approach to marking.
The technique used most frequently by the teach-ers, 'praised in front of other pupils', falls marginallylower than 'private praise', in the pupils' ranking, sothat it seems that the teachers have under-rated thislatter technique. That 'merit/house points given byyour teacher', is second for teachers and next tolast for pupils suggest that the point systems in usein the schools needs a reappraisal. That teachersuse it a lot shows a belief in its effectiveness butit seems evident that the pupils do not feel theygain sufficient rewards for their points.
If we turn to punishments, the largest discrepancyoccurs with 'being stopped from going on a schooltrip', ranked second by pupils and next to last byteachers. This is quite understandable since it isa deterrent that teachers would clearly not wishto use with any frequency for all sorts of reasons.Conversely, 'being told off in private', ranks lowin effectiveness for pupils whilst teachers use thetechnique frequently. Once again this is quiteunderstandable since teachers may feel the tech-nique to be less damaging to a pupil's developmentthan other more severe techniques.
One very interesting finding on punishments is,however, the...