Monday, February 19, 2007

Should we give students rewards?

By Marc Anthony, Taipei, Taiwan

Some teachers speak of using "presents" to motivate learners.

I worked for some time as a program manager for a Sylvan Learning Center, an after-school tutoring program in the USA. One of the motivating techniques to make students "feel good about learning" (as their motto goes), was to award tokens for work well done and concepts mastered. The tokens could be saved and spent in the "Sylvan Store" - a little toy store which each center has.

Needless to say, tokens were very popular with students, especially those under the age of 12. However, I also observed that these short-term rewards were often the only reason the students worked at all. Take away the tokens and many kids were less interested in doing the work for its own sake.

Therein lies the problems with rewards and presents. Short-term rewards become a matter of manipulation for many kids --"give me a reward or I won't do the work." If you give any present or reward at all, it should ideally be, as Khadija said, in the form of verbal or written praise, or if a reward is needed, it should be a long-term one, and should be offered to the entire class (i.e. everyone who gets passing grade on the exam can have a class picnic).

Many teachers are dead set against using any kind of reward system, as it leads to all kinds of complications and expectations. And I have observed that it is often the less experienced teacher who resorts to giving presents in order to make up for their lack of ability to teach confidently or manage a classroom.

No comments: