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Do Rewards Motivate Students to Work Harder?

by Kristine Tucker

Classroom rewards might motivate students to work harder, but it's often for the wrong reasons. Students benefit the most from their schoolwork when they feel proud of their accomplishments and have an internal drive that motivates them to succeed. Rewards are enjoyable, but students learn to find satisfaction in the prizes more than their personal achievements.

Stifles Creativity

Psychology professor Beth Hennessey says extrinsic rewards, such as paying kids for good grades or promising a computer at the end of the semester, can have negative results, according to the Learning Matters website. Students who are currently motivated to do well in school because they have a sense of pride when it comes to accomplishing goals or they feel a high level of self-esteem when they complete difficult assignments, often lose their creativity and excitement with extrinsic rewards. Giving kids candy rewards and other unhealthy foods often has the same negative effect with the added disadvantages of sugar highs and extra calories.

Internal Satisfaction

When teachers offer bonuses that make students feel self-assured and internally pleased with their work, it leads to a productive classroom. Intrinsic rewards motivate students to work harder because they are interested in the subject matter or assignments -- not tangible prizes. Intrinsically motivated students find their studies more enjoyable, their learning is deeper and it lasts longer, says Hennessey. For example, a teacher might reward students by allowing them to do research on classroom computers or go to the library for reading time. Teachers might incorporate fun educational games or healthy recreational parties to encourage exercise and socialization and reward hard work.

Entitlement

Students might work harder for rewards, but this style of classroom management often leads to students feeling like they are owed something for their efforts. When you offer rewards in return for good behavior or high grades, you create a sense of entitlement, according to the Smart Classroom Management website. The goal is to help students want to succeed without the promise of benefits or rewards. You don't want to create a reward system that compensates students for what they should already be doing on their own.

Motivates Struggling Learners

Extrinsic rewards might help students who have lost interest in school and don't have much to lose. When you have a student who frequently fails assignments, turns in incomplete work or shows up late for class, tangible rewards might give him a reason to try harder. Unfortunately, it's difficult to reward struggling students with tangible prizes without also rewarding productive students. Consider rewarding a struggling student during after-school tutoring sessions, so his classmates don't think you're playing favorites or showing partiality. Rewards might include pencils, gadgets, small toys or healthy snacks.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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