My Barren Wasteland – A Room Without Rewards

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts that didn’t survive the move.  This is one of those posts.

A barren wasteland with no smiling allowed.  A silent classroom with a teacher standing sternly at the front slapping a ruler against their palm waiting for the next kid that dares to actually have a good time.  These are all images people tend to get when I say I do not believe in rewards.

Recently I wrote a post detailing how I reward my students through time rather than extrinsic motivators.  One comment I received asked me whether I believed in whole classroom rewards or not, which is a question I often get.  The answer is no.  I don’t believe in the idea of rewards and agree with Alfie Kohn when he states that “Rewards and punishment  are ways of manipulating behavior that destroy the potential for real learning.”

I believe that rewards twist the focus of the classroom and provides students with a false reason to want to engage.  I believe that rewards always end up benefiting the same students and some are always left out.  I know some will say that classroom rewards are the answer to that inequity, but ask yourself; how often have you taken away classroom points or not given marbles based on the actions of one kid or just a couple?  I know I used to even though it did not reflect the behavior of the whole classroom.  So you still produce an inequity because the other kids certainly know who it is that makes them lose points and believe me that plays into social situations sooner or later.

The bottom line for me is when we perpetually stick a carrot in front of students faces whether it be through points, letters, or marbles, we are teaching them that they should not do anything without a reward.  So while in the short term it may work to have kids get points to earn something as a classroom, in the long run it is not shaping their behavior to want to behave simply for the greater good.  I need kids that want to be in my classroom and I expect kids to take responsibility for their behaviors.  So I do not make kids “earn” anything in the reward sense, and I do not single out kids.  Instead we celebrate class-wide whenever an occasion arises.   Celebrations are given not earned and they can be based on whether we have achieved something or it is a certain time of year.  Often students and I discuss how we should celebrate something and it is never ever taken away from them.    I never use it is a way to manipulate their behavior or to point out anything.  We simply celebrate, and there is always a lot to celebrate!

So while classroom rewards may seem harmless, think of what it projects.  Think of what message it really is sending the students.  Are we trying to tell them that we do not expect them to behave without some sort of reward?  Are we trying to tell them that society will always reward them extrinsically whenever they do what is expected of them, because if we are, those kids will be mightily disappointed in adult life.

 

 

 

 

One thought on “My Barren Wasteland – A Room Without Rewards

  1. Another amazing post! When my son asked me what he would “get” for doing something, I knew I had failed him. When my kids school holds contests for the class that gives the Most money to a charity, what is the focus? The focus is on what they GET for it and not what they are giving. My daughter gave $20.00 of her Own money to children in Africa. I though that was so amazing as it was her own money. When she told me she would receive 20 coins for the $20.00 she gave, I felt sick to my stomach. The 20 coins she would receive would go toward a prize from the prize box at the end of the year for HER! What are we dong to our kids? I have since changed my ways and neither my son or daughter get Rewards anymore. They receive just because. I refuse to fail my daughter this way, and I had a talk and read my blog post to my son. I apologized to him, but the school needs to get on board. Its sickening that they cannot see what they are doing. They do this to Get what they need to Give but at the expense of our children. Then the class who contributed the most receives a party, What about the other kids…its like Why try?
    I recently wrote a blog post regarding this on my page.
    Thank you again!

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