The Age Old Dilemma: Extrinsic Rewards vs. Intrinsic Rewards


I read a post from Linked In connection, David Ginsburg. In his article, he said that his biggest regret as a teacher was giving extrinsic rewards. His reasoning hit the hammer on the nail. See below:

"But why is it wrong to give students rewards for good behavior? For one thing, it sets them up for future failure. That's because success is about delayed gratification, not instant gratification. And because successful people demonstrate self-regulation, self-discipline, and self-motivation."

I keep seeing new behavior management systems arise in the school systems. Whatever happened to the the simple green, yellow, orange and red behavior coding and giving a small reward to the successful student at the end of the week as sort of his or her pay for a job well done?

This is what I see today. I see schools publicizing on their morning news programs a particular character trait they would like to see on campus. For demonstrating that behavior students get a slip of paper with the school's logo on it. If you earn so many by the end of the month, you get a charm to put on a bracelet that eventually gets lost. Each month, the amount of times required to demonstrate the particular behavior is upped significantly. Teachers have to spend a half hour of their day getting a daily count of tickets per student, taking away from valuable teaching time. Hmmm! Something's wrong here! Students demonstrate the desired behavior when they see staff giving out those little slips of paper, looking like little beggars. What this accomplished was getting children to comply only when enticed with an immediate reward, then getting disappointed when displaying it fifteen times was no longer enough to get a new charm for their bracelet. The result was that most students gave up, believing the whole process to be futile.

As a former substitute teacher, I have also seen an extreme exaggeration of the simple four-color behavior management system. It included colors for good, very good, the best, excellent and just as many colors for negative behavior. I had great trouble distinguishing between the best and excellent. The students never took their place seriously, as teachers would move student clips up and down the scale at each and every positive or negative behavior. I felt like more of a warden than an instructor.

In the simple green, yellow, orange and red behavior management plan, students knew where they stood. They all started on green for good. If they breached a classroom rule, their clip moved to yellow as a warning to keep their behavior in check. If their behavior persisted or worsened, their clip would move to orange and they would miss a few minutes of recess or another privilege. If a student made his or her way to red, that usually meant a note home and/or a brief meeting with the principal, depending on the school. The color that students left the day with was indicated in a parent communication planner, so parents could get involved in supporting this plan. Most students kept themselves in check well once they learned that their teacher meant business and did not waiver up and down the colors. Parental support helped this process immensely and most students got their "pay" for self-regulation, self-discipline and self-motivation. The self-esteem of these kids was boosted as well.

With all the distractions to teaching, do we want to continue with elaborate point and/or token systems that take so much time away from academic achievement? Do we want to create a generation of beggars or a generation of confident, goal-oriented individuals?

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