What do you think about rewards in the classroom?

Thank you to Chris Wejr (@chriswejr) who posted a link to his blog post 14 Videos for Starting Dialogue on Rethinking Rewards, Awards on Twitter which gave me the idea of posting a couple of those videos here to challenge thinking about rewards in the classroom.

I certainly have used rewards in the past but rarely if ever do I use them now. This is not so much because of a deep seated philosophy that I have about using rewards in the classroom but more about my indifference to the whole issue itself, having never had a strong opinion either way. Obviously I use grades to report student achievement which can be considered a form of reward. Students rarely see a grade as a useful piece of feedback designed to help them improve, rather it is viewed more as an end result (a reward) than a stepping stone to improvement.

Someone who does have a strong opinion about rewards, including the use of grades is Alfie Kohn. Below is a grab from Alfie Kohn’s blog which can be visited by clicking here.

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of twelve books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.
Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps this country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”

The first video is a excerpt of Alfie Kohn  speaking about the impact of rewards (including grades). The second video is a clip from The Office (American version) which highlights what happens when an employee is not interested in the external rewards being offered by the employer (very funny). Is this what happens in our classrooms when students disengage because they have no interest in the external rewards in our classrooms (including grades)? If students do not engage because of the traditional rewards offered to them the question is how do we engage them? What motivates these students to want to achieve?


I would be really interested in hearing about what philosophies teachers had regarding rewards and the importance (or not) of grades towards learning.

3 thoughts on “What do you think about rewards in the classroom?

  1. Quite a few years ago I went to a conference where the presenter spoke about the need for students to want to improve – the reward was intrinsic – the satisfaction of improving yourself and that extrinsic rewards would result in students wanting a reward for everything they did, otherwise there was no point in doing it. I was impressed and persuaded that I should not give out stickers etc.

    However, when I reflected on the whole rewards issue, I realised that I myself responded extremely well to rewards. While internally feeling satisfaction that what I did was great, I still love the recognition from others. The reward is not necessarily a physical thing, but can be a comment. After all my wage could be considered a reward for my working.

    In an ideal world maybe the satisfaction of achievement would be enough, but the world is not ideal.

  2. Reflecting on the importance of grades, they are certainly important to secondary students. While I often try to write a comment to explain a grade, I have noticed that some students only look at the grade, which is frustrating as the comment usually gives them feedback about what they did well and what they could improve.

    • This is a really interesting debate. If you want to hear arguments for abolishing grades go to this blog http://www.joebower.org. I think you would find some of the articles on this blog interesting and quite challenging in some respects. A grade does not help improve learning. An ‘A’ tells a student they are really good at something and a ‘D’ tells a student they are quite poor at something. Does either improve learning? Probably not. If we took grades away and only ever offered constructive feedback and then assisted students to use this feedback would students learning improve? Maybe! Students tend to see grades as an end point. It would be an interesting experiment to not hand out grades and just provide constructive, specific feedback. No doubt most parents, students and teachers would struggle with this.

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