The Problem with Competition-Based Learning

Published On: Friday, December 21, 2018|Categories: Learning Strategies, Parents, Teachers, Tenney Subscribers|

In many instances, teachers want students to compete: for great grades; on projects; to be the “best” in the classroom. Many of the schools often considered to be the “best” drive students to higher levels of academic success through competition-based learning. Students are trying to do better, achieve better, top their classmates. As a result, they concentrate better, work harder, and make studying a top priority. For many students, this is exactly the incentive they need to succeed at high levels. As a result, many schools and parents think this is the most effective way to challenge student learners. It works, right?

Except when it doesn’t.

For some students, the drive to compete is very deflating. Instead of excelling at a higher level due to the competition, they may find themselves struggling or even give up entirely.

Differing Levels of Academic Success

Not all children are born geniuses. All children have something that they’re good at or a place where they are able to excel, but many of them may find themselves struggling in a traditional–or even nontraditional–classroom environment. For some students, simply reading on grade level is a personal level of excellence. For others, excellence may start at an even lower level. For these students, competing in the classroom can quickly lead to an ongoing fear of appearing stupid–and that can have long-term classroom consequences.

Students may be afraid to ask questions. Students who don’t understand what’s going on may worry that their peers will perceive them as “stupid.” As a result, they may be unwilling to ask questions in class. Unwillingness to ask questions, in turn, leads to a lack of understanding, and a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of a given topic or subject may make it very difficult for students to catch up. This can create a cycle of difficulty in which students struggle to learn and catch up.

Competition can significantly increase student stress levels. Even among students who are often high performers, stress levels may increase dramatically because of constant competition. This, in turn, can actually decrease student performance: while stress may increase results short-term, ongoing stress will ultimately make it difficult for students to continue to perform even at the level they’re normally capable of.

Personality Differences

Students are divided into several basic categories when it comes to competition–and their personalities will shine through very quickly in many of these settings.

Students who thrive: Some students thrive on competition. They can’t wait to dive in and compete with others, show them what they’re made of, and showcase their skills. Other students, however, simply aren’t interested in competition. They don’t find it motivating; and in fact, they may find it downright demoralizing.

Students who become anxious: Unfortunately, some students quickly become anxious in the face of constant competition. The hotter the competition gets, the more anxious they may become. This can lead to trouble sleeping or eating, excessive focus on school, lack of interest in activities that the student once enjoyed, or a perceived lack of time to accomplish anything else.

Students who display aggression: Some students react very negatively to perceived competition, engaging in hostile and aggressive behaviors. These behaviors are not limited to sports. In fact, in many classrooms, increased stress and heightened competition can result in hostile reactions to peers.

Students who disengage: In some cases, students who perceive excessive competition around them may simply disengage from the environment. In a traditional classroom, this may mean that they become disinterested in the learning process or no longer want to engage with their teachers or their peers. Students may begin to struggle to perform in many areas of the classroom.

The Tenney School Difference

At the Tenney School, we strive to remove competition-based learning from the classroom. Students are invited to learn in one-on-one environments where they need not see what other students are doing. As a result, students are more likely to ask important questions. They don’t feel judged; instead, they feel supported and able to handle their learning. Want to learn more about a learning environment where your student will be more likely to succeed and even excel? Contact us today to learn more about our specialized classes.

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