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Why You Shouldn't Reward Students
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Author: Michael Linsin
Giving rewards in exchange for good behavior is a mistake.

For regular education classroom teachers, giving rewards in exchange for good behavior is a mistake.

It’s true that “do this and get that” type rewards can improve behavior in the short term. As in, “Sit up straight and give me your attention, and I will give you each a sticker.”

Or, “John, if you can go the whole day without bothering your tablemates, I have a surprise for you after school.”

But incentives of this nature, which include earning class pizza parties, extra recess, free time, and the like, don’t benefit students in the long run and make classroom management more difficult.

This applies to individual students as well as entire classrooms.

For real, lasting behavior improvement, focus instead on creating a classroom that nurtures intrinsic motivation.

And leave the bribery to the trainers at Sea World.

Here’s why:

1. Rewards turn good behavior into work.

Rewarding good behavior sends the message to your students that if they have to be paid for it, then it must be work. They logically conclude that being well behaved must be something difficult or noteworthy. Otherwise, why would they be rewarded for it?

This effectively makes good behavior less desirable… and more like an effort your students deserve to be paid for.

2. Rewards lead to entitlement.

When you offer rewards in return for good behavior, you create in your students a peculiar sense of entitlement. They’ll feel entitled to receive something for merely doing what is expected.

It leads them to believe that they’re behaving and following rules for you, and thus are owed something from you. After all, if they’re getting a reward for it, there must not be anything in it for them.

3. Rewards cheapen the intrinsic motivation to behave.

Being rewarded to behave cheapens the intrinsic merit of being a valued citizen of your class. In other words, it puts a price tag on the priceless.

Have you ever had a student who was uncomfortable or less than thrilled with public recognition, drummed up awards, or excessive praise? This is a person with already strong, deep-rooted intrinsic motivation who would prefer that you didn’t barter with it.


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