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Rewards in the Classroom: Pros and Cons of Tangible Rewards

Are rewards in the classroom an effective teaching tool or do their negative consequences outweigh any benefits? This is a hotly-debated issue in educational circles and the debate isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Why do teachers use tangible rewards? Because they work, at least for the short-term.

This article will look at the pros and cons of using tangible rewards (candy, food coupons, trinkets) to manipulate student behavior.

Pros:

 

  • These items can quickly change student behavior. Start giving candy to kids are answering a question and your 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 involvement from students who normally are unengaged.
  • Students can gradually be weaned off of tangible rewards by using intermittent reinforcement.

 

Cons:

 

  • Rewards cause students to work for the wrong reasons.
  • They only create a temporary change.
  • Rather than rewards, they often are actually a bribe.
  • Since the teacher usually pays for her own rewards, it can become expensive.
  • Not all students are motivated by the reward you offer.
  • They can actually 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 cease because they are tied to the reward.
  • Rewards encourage an external focus. Students learn because they will get something physical for it. The teaching goal is to move students to the level of working for internal rewards, such as the feeling of pride attained from doing a good job. Tangibles don’t promote this.

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