Study outlines the conflicting effects of praising pupils for outstanding attendance
Are attendance certificates worthwhile awards? Source: Shutterstock

It’s a Friday morning assembly, and eager school students are awaiting the weekly awards ceremony.

A few are called up for their marvellous contributions to homework projects, others are summoned to the front to receive an award for polite behaviour in lessons, and then a couple of students are praised for their commitment to school with an outstanding attendance certificate.

Attendance certificates, awards for turning up to lessons every day and on time, have long been contested in the education world.

Where some teachers may say that high attendance should be the norm and students should not be awarded for it, others may say that it’s a good idea to encourage this form of behaviour in schools as it sets students up for a lifetime of reliability and commitment.

Morning assemblies integral to school life around the world. Source: Shutterstock

Assessing both sides of the argument, the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) recently reviewed a paper from their Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

The 2019 entry, The Demotivating Effect (and Unintended Message) of Retrospective Awards, discusses the conflicting results of offering awards for attendance.

Digging deeper into the role of attendance certificates, SREE recruited 188 K-12 educational leaders and 119 teachers to complete a survey.

“In the survey, we described the retrospective award and asked if they thought it would result in award winning students attending school more, the same, or less than if they did not receive the award. Next, we assessed the ubiquity of offering awards for student attendance,” the society notes.

Illuminating the results, SREE found that only two percent of educators predicted that providing students with a retrospective award would result in them attending school less. And that “the majority (95 percent of school leaders and 57 percent of teachers) reported that someone in their school offered awards for student attendance.”

“In contrast to our prediction that both prospective and retrospective awards would improve recipients’ subsequent behavior, we find that prospective awards did not impact behavior and retrospective awards unexpectedly demotivated the target behaviour,” SREE concludes.

From these results, it’s fair to say that attendance certificates don’t always have the desired effect of heightening student motivation or increasing the school’s overall attendance results.

Upon evaluation of the study, it’s also wise to consider the individual styles of schools across the world.

What works for one school may not work for another. But if attendance certificates do have a positive effect on the student population, there’s no harm caused.

But what if these certificates trigger a reverse effect, demotivating students who are anxious about collecting the award in front of an audience of peers? Would they prefer to be awarded for their work rather than their attendance rate? By any means, it would be worth reassessing the award style and switching up the system.

Praise comes in many forms, and it doesn’t always have to be in the shape of a certificate.

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