As a follow-up to my recent post “My Issue With Rewards”, I wanted to highlight the thoughts of two parents from my PLN on the topic of rewards.  These individuals have caused me to reflect further upon the use of extrinsic rewards/prizes both for me as a parent and as an educator.

Sheila Stewart, a parent from Ontario and @sheilaspeaking on Twitter, commented on my post:

I am not sure exactly when and where and how I first began to learn about motivational theories, but I am thankful that I did come to understand more and that I had time to consider such before I taught and before I became a parent.

My approaches with children may simply have a lot to do with my own upbringing. My parents did not use external rewards in any big way to encourage my behaviour at home or beyond. I was their 4th child, but it seemed we were all just expected to be responsible, do our share and conduct ourselves as members of a family and as members of a community. Modelling, of course, was so important.

I am also glad I studied psychology before education. It gave me further insight into human behaviour and motivation. But then probably a lot of my perspective just has to do with me being me – observing, thinking, and aiming to understand why we do what we do. I am often saddened by how entrenched “reward systems” have become in our schools and society. How can we count on future generations to just do good for themselves, others and our world, if we encourage them so much to look for “What else is in it for me right now (or at the end of the month)?”. But I recognize how hard it can be to establish different strategies and expectations in a class or school if they are different or inconsistent from what a student has become accustomed to elsewhere. I think that is often the biggest challenge to face. So great to read about others committed to staying the course though!

I think we often resort to reward systems and strategies in teaching and parenting not realizing we are doing so for short-term benefits. Having been a supply teacher in the younger grades I can understand how easy it is to use rewards, tickets, etc., to get through a short-term teaching assignment, especially with students you may not have developed relationships with yet. I still had difficulty with resorting to those kinds of methods though, so instead I focused on making activities meaningful and engaging and I encouraged cooperation from the students as the experts of their learning and as “owners” of their classroom environment.

I really hope we can focus mostly on helping kids recognize and experience the “reward” that comes with engaging in their own learning, and also with living harmoniously with others in our schools and communities. I think that is the respectful approach and an important goal.

Goran Kimovski, from Vancouver and @g_kima on Twitter, wrote a thought-provoking piece on the Cooperative Catalyst a few months ago and I felt it would be a good addition to the conversation so I have included his personal story from the post.  For the full blog from Goran, click here.

…I’d like to share a personal story. I thought long about this and I decided it is too important to make teachers and schools stop for a moment and rethink the use of incentives — thus I decided to overcome my original apprehension and write about it!

My 7-year old daughter attends grade 1 in a French Immersion program, within a local public school here in [British Columbia]. To deal with the big number of kids who are not making the effort to speak French in class, and after seeing an interesting and seemingly successful program  that the grade 3 teacher next door ‘swears by’, my daughter’s teacher decided to use classroom ‘cents’ to get all kids to speak French:

We have started a new incentive program in our class to encourage everyone to speak French.  We already earn ‘cents’ for good behaviour and work habits but now we are starting every week with 5 ‘cents’ in our special envelopes taped to our desks.  Whenever we hear someone speaking English in our class we get to ask them for a ‘cent’.  If someone hears us speaking English we must give them a ‘cent’.  Madame has also been handing out ‘cents’ to everyone when she hears them speaking French.  At the end of the week we will count up our ‘cents’ and deposit them in our bank accounts for the class store.  So far this week some of our children have earned over 11 ‘cents’ for all the French they have been speaking.

I find this damaging in many ways and have been actively trying to influence my daughter not to take part in punishing kids when she hears them speaking English — even managed to convince her to give some of her ‘cents’ away to her friends!

…I can’t help but find the use of ‘cents’ deplorable and have hard time accepting that many teachers use similar, if not the same method to motivate kids into compliance!

Admittedly, as a parent, I have fallen into the trap many times — from innocent clapping when my daughter would finally dress up after begging her for 10 minutes, to bribing her with chocolate if she eats her broccoli first. I do know better not to use bribing to get her to read a book, or to convince her to stick to color pencils instead of pastel as a way to avoid making a mess when painting at home, though!

The use of extrinsic rewards (ie. prizes and incentives given from someone using ‘power over’) is deeply embedded in our society because it works to get others to do what you want them to do…. short-term.  However, as educators we need to reflect upon the long-term consequences that these short-term rewards (and punishments) may bring about.  As an educator, and now a new parent, I continue to catch myself relying on the use of extrinsic motivation to try to create actions/behaviours in others.

The most important question we can ask around the use of rewards was stated by psychologist and research Edward Deci (via Larry Ferlazzo’s book Helping Students Motivate Themselves:

How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?

I encourage us all to reflect upon our actions and contemplate whether they actually create conditions for intrinsic motivation to grow or they create a dependence on an extrinsic reward.

Thank you to Goran and Sheila for the permission to include their thoughts on this post.