I have written before about ‘candy for rewards’ in the classroom – A Candy for Your Thoughts?, and my challenge with this is on a couple of levels: first, unhealthy, sugar-filled treats are seen as a reward for doing things correctly, being good, or essentially is giving prizes for (good) behaviour. I have also written a piece on my struggles with book clubs rewarding students based on the volume of books they read – I Blame You Twitter. I have seen students (and my own children) intentionally select easy books to ‘win’ and perpetuate the notion that reading is something that needs to be incentivized. I have been well indoctrinated by Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others who raise the concern flag over rewards, and passionate Canadian edu-bloggers like Joe Bower and Chris Wejr who have regularly challenged the use of rewards in school.
I can remember rewards working for me in school. I struggled with reading, but I recall a reading-fundraiser to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society where family and friends sponsored me to read books and if I hit a certain number (I think it was 20 books) I got a certificate — I read for those months like I have never read before. I also can remember engaging in social responsibility initiatives like raising money for prominent and worthy charities, knowing that if I reached a certain level I would get a free Frisbee or Yo-Yo. But, shouldn’t I have read because of the pleasure of reading? Shouldn’t I have engaged in charity to support the community? I’m not entirely sure I would have done either with such fervor if it were not for the incentives. And, I’m also not sure if I would have studied so diligently every Thursday night for the Friday spelling test if I didn’t know a star on the board, at the front of the class, was on the line each week.
I am currently pulling together a presentation for the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED around my parenting wishes for my own kids’ schooling. I keep coming back to this idea that I want learning to be the prize for them.
I wish that I could say that I was more intrinsically motivated. And, keeping the learning as the prize makes perfect sense in theory, and is a worthy goal, but for me it has always been an ongoing struggle.
Are others sharing this same challenge?