Is Competition in the Classroom a Good Thing?

I have the least competitive class on the planet.  My class clearly struggle when pitted against each other.  They are a naturally tight class, with no discernible popular figure and no outcast.  It is a credit to them that they are so close.  Similarly, they deserve kudos for being committed to continuous improvement, not out of a desire to be better than their classmates, but simply because they want to achieve to their maximum.

But then comes the annual Sports Carnival, and all of a sudden, things change.  The kids just couldn’t cope with coming third, fourth and especially last.  They felt they let themselves down as well as their team.  Some of them were justifiably upset that they were put in the same heat as much faster runners and were therefore not even given a chance to win.

Part of me feels responsible.  I noticed at the beginning of the year that this group hated competition, and I tried to ensure that I steered clear from competitive activities and tests.  When testing the kids, I don’t give them a letter or number grade, instead I chose to give them clear feedback on skills they performed well in and found challenging.  This not only prevents students from comparing themselves to others, but also provides clear feedback on what they can do and what skills require further practise.

Some say that competition is good.  It is character building, it prepares the child for the competitiveness of the real world and motivates the child.  I am skeptical when it comes to competition in the classroom.  My experience tells me that many teachers resort to grades and levels in elementary level when the content of what they are teaching isn’t particularly interesting and requires a bit of superficial stimulus.

Am I doing more damage than good, by protecting my students from competing against each other?  Even though my students are motivated and have a natural enjoyment of learning in the current setup, am I doing a disservice by not preparing them for the realities of not winning, getting beaten and dealing with the joy of doing better than others?


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6 Responses to “Is Competition in the Classroom a Good Thing?”

  1. J Roycroft Says:

    I believe competition is not only good for the classroom, but necessary for success. Here in Atlanta, Georgia is a school, the Ron Clark Academy. I have a blog posted about this school. It is a privately funded school which does amazing things for students and educators alike. I would recommend you investigate the Ron Clark Academy. They are very well known for teaching educators ways in which benefit the student and the teachers to be the best. You display genuine concern for your students. I believe Ron Clark could help you advance your career to you maximum potential.

  2. fourcornerslife Says:

    If your students view your room as so safe that there is no need to compete, that’s a good thing, in my opinion. We compete when we need to liven it up or earn something. As an adult, I’m not a competitive person, in general. I won’t fight someone for an opportunity, because I’ve come to know that there will be another one. So many classrooms are inherently competitive…isn’t it nice to know that your students can experience the other end and be just fine?

  3. leaderinlearning Says:

    At my son’s old school they used to have non-competitive sports days. All pupils took part and there were no winners or losers. The kids had to visit 8 different stations and complete the sporting activity at each stage. Some involved relay races, some were “pass the ball”, some were obstacle courses. The kids reminded of sheep being hereded from one pen to another. There was no cheering or medal giving and to be honest it was boring to watch. And all this in aid of not wanting to upset the children.
    I think that competition is a healthy thing to introduce into schools because there will be times in their lives when they will not be selected for a job they applied for or they may have some other kind of loss. Isn’t it better to prepare them for such mishaps and teach them that it is a fact of life? Competition teaches teamwork and camaradarie, it teaches children to learn that its the experience and what they learn from failing that counts.

  4. renaissanceguy Says:

    If you are talking about playing competitive games in class, I am all for it. The kids love it, and they end up learning in a context that is fun. Sure, some kids lose some of the time. A few kids lose all the time, but maybe their success will come in sports or art or music or mechanics. We cannot all be good at everything.

    In fact, if you do not have academic competitions, then some kids will never have a chance to win anything, since some kids are really talented only in academic areas.

    • Michael G. Says:

      I’m talking about situations when progress is measured by where you are in relation to your class rather than how far you have come regardless of where the class is.

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