Does Fear Work To Motivate Students?

“If you don’t learn this, you aren’t going to pass…and you aren’t going to graduate with your class.”

How many times do we as educators say something like the statement above in hopes its going to be the thing that gets a student working? Maybe we use it because we as adults are often motivated by our own fears or maybe its because we think its a quick way to motivate someone.

Turns out fear isn’t a great motivator at all. According to a study done at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, England teachers who used fear tactics like the one above to motivate students were less effective and produced students with less motivation and lower grades (School Psychology Quarterly, April 2014). Remember the old “Scared Straight” program where they took kids who were at risk and had them spend the day in prison getting scared out of their wits by inmates? Decades of results from that program show it was worse than no treatment! So how do we put this information into practice? Paraeducators can improve their effectiveness by knowing which techniques – like fear – don’t work very well and steering clear of them.

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