Making the Switch from Extrinsic to Intrinsic Rewards


It’s hard to imagine that there’s a teacher anywhere who hasn’t heard by now that intrinsic rewards offer children more than extrinsic rewards – that, in fact, extrinsic rewards can have long-term negative consequences for kids. Still, gold stars and praise and other such rewards have a strong hold in the classroom.

Part of the reason for that, of course, is that teachers find the idea of intrinsic reward much more abstract. It’s so much easier to offer pizza or ice cream to the students who read the most books!

Another likely reason is that, even if they’re firm believers in the need for intrinsic reward, teachers often don’t know how to make the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. That’s why I invited education coach David Ginsburg, who writes and speaks on this topic, and educator and psychologist Joan Young to talk with me on Studentcentricity.

Here are some of the points made during our discussion:

– Using extrinsic rewards is a way of eliciting compliance, rather than real cooperation.

– Using extrinsic rewards shows a lack of trust in students. Getting to know students will end up being a time saver.

-Students need confidence, not candy. They need earnest acknowledgement from adults they respect.David talked aboutthe importance of “noticing” – offering students feedback and letting them reflect on their progress.

Following the conversation, Joan commented on that point:

Students need to know they are capable of what we are asking them to do, so I loved David’s description of giving students immediate feedback through “noticing.” I also take it a step further and ask students to notice how it feels for them when they are successful. For many, this is a foreign experience initially and they may not stop to recognize their progress.

David added this takeaway from his blog post, My Biggest Regret as a Teacher: Extrinsic Rewards:

Many educators aren’t thinking about students’ feelings or futures when they dangle rewards. They’re thinking about getting students to cooperate so they can get through the curriculum before the test. But the way to elicit students’ cooperation is by empowering them, not by trying to control them. I know this because of the dramatic improvements in culture and student outcomes in my classroom after I stopped using rewards. Improvements that were the result of giving studentsvoices and choicesintheirclassroom rather than bribing them to comply inmyclassroom. Improvements that were reflected in students feeling fulfilled because of what they were learning, not because of what they were earning.

To hear more advice from David and Joan, click here.

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