Are rewards in the classroom an effective teaching tool or do negative consequences outweigh any benefits? This is a hotly debated topic in educational circles and the debate is not likely to end anytime soon. Why do teachers use tangible rewards? Because they work, at least in the short term.
This article will look at the pros and cons of using tangible rewards (candy, food stamps, trinkets) to manipulate student behavior.
- These elements can quickly change the behavior of students. Start gifting candy to children who answer a question and their participation rates will skyrocket.
- This is an easy system for students to understand. Do what the teacher wants, get a prize.
- Reinforcement is frequent and immediate. Students don’t have to wait to receive it.
- Rewards provide a short-term incentive to behave or work hard.
- Rewards can encourage participation from students who are not normally engaged.
- Students can gradually stop receiving tangible rewards through the use of intermittent boosters.
- Rewards make students work for the wrong reasons.
- They only create a temporary change.
- More than rewards, they are often a bribe.
- Since the teacher usually pays for her own rewards, it can be expensive.
- Not all students are motivated by the reward you offer.
- In fact, they can be a disincentive. If the reward is given to the first person with the correct answer, many students may not even try.
- Food prizes are risky and should be avoided. Your class may contain diabetics and students with many types of allergies.
- If you stop giving the rewards, the desired behaviors may stop because they are linked to the reward.
- Rewards encourage an external focus. Students learn because they will get something physical for it. The goal of teaching is to bring students to the level of working for internal rewards, such as the sense of pride that comes from doing a good job. Tangibles do not promote this.
I used tangible rewards on occasion and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Sometimes he would choose a name at random from the homework papers and give a small prize. Tends to increase the percentage of homework assigned over time. And sometimes I gave bonus points to groups that won review contests. For me this just adds a fun element to the class. As long as the kids don’t expect it, it’s just one more tool.
However, trying to implement a class-wide rewards system is time consuming, expensive, and ultimately not very effective. It also has a negative effect on student participation and cooperation in class. Soon, every time you ask students to do something, you will get a chorus of “What do we get?” This will age really fast!
The best approach is not to depend on physical rewards. However, if you are already implementing a reward-based behavior system, slowly begin to steer children away from it. Instead of getting something for everything, give rewards at the end of the week. As they do so, increase the amount of verbal praise and encourage them to be proud of their accomplishments.