Using the carrot/stick analogy, will the carrot ultimately fail??!!

Posted by Phil on Jun 3, 2016

Whilst viewing both the video by Duckworth and reading Boaler’s article, I began to think about the concept of motivation and belief. My belief in the concept of belief is paramount, (if it wasn’t I’d be in trouble) but seriously I always feel that the belief of the ability to succeed a task is key in the performance of such. Both Boaler and Duckworth, go on to mention how much effort and grit play in an individuals efforts, but let’s go back to the carrot scenario, if at some stage we realise that we are never ever going to reach that carrot or even just believe so then most if not all participants will give up.


How can this be related to the UK education system, I think there is a case to be made that there is very little in terms of a carrot on offer. When we consider a primary school pupil, what is their tangible motivation, the concept of a A* grade at GCSE carries no real source of motivation at a young age, but still that doesn’t mean all children just give up right there and then. All of us individually will have our own drive, I was very lucky as a young child as I always enjoyed the challenge of working something out, in effect I had my own carrot and when I succeeded my own pride was enough. But having said that, I have seen this trait in most children I have come across, if they achieve you can see the fulfilment, but again why is this not enough?


My own theory is the how the achievement is received by others. I have seen this in my own children in particular but when they do something which they believe is something special they will look around (in most cases up to me or my wife) for some sort of external approval. Arguably, there will be some children who will receive very little of this approval from their own parents, and in effect this alone is a key motivational factor. This approval is also given by teachers who will either use a uniform reward system adopted by the school, be it a star of the week or some sort of point scoring system.


However, all of this type of motivation will have differing impacts on the individual pupil, and the grit and drive must still come from somewhere. Varying degrees of both motivation and belief will play their part, but sometimes if not very often is will be down to the individual to define their own as a source of impetus for their drive and effort. Relating back to Syed’s article a couple of weeks back, I think the achievement of elite sportsmen/women is a good case study, each if these individuals will have a single mindedness and drive to become the best of the best, and so much of that will come from within.


  1. aw677
    7 June 2016

    I really find your point of view interesting Phil, once again you bring in an aspect of motivation I hadn’t really considered when writing my own think piece. It is so true that children will (mostly) look to adults for positive affirmation of anything that they perceive to be special or a particular achievement. In a classroom situation I know there will be children that do not receive this at home and this can be rectified somewhat in class, however it is so important that as teachers we are fair and not seen to have favourites but maybe this is a way that we can recapture a few of the less motivated, something that is definitely worth considering.

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 June 2016

    Some really interesting early thoughts about motivation. There’s lots more to think about, and I’d highly recommend looking into intrinsic/extrinsic motivation – it will help you develop your model of this even further, eg.

  3. Ray
    8 June 2016

    It was interesting to read your thoughts on motivation and also to read the article in the link provided by Peps. Something for me to consider when trying to motivate pupils.

  4. ajf29
    8 June 2016

    Love the carrot analogy Phil!! As teachers I agree we play a vital role in installing motivation within our students. How can we differ teaching styles to motivate all abilities within Mathematics?! I believe this is an area in which a lot of training should be given to teachers.

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