Using Rewards in the Classroom

Using Rewards in the Classroom

Are rewards the solution to a problem, whether it is academic or behavioral? NO!!! Are rewards systems abused and used incorrectly in many classrooms? Definitely YES!!!! Can a correctly implemented pattern of rewards assist in modifying the behavior of some children? YES. (Note, please notice the qualifications in the above sentence.)

When I first began teaching my wife taught me to always question what I was doing in the classroom. She taught me to always ask “WHY?” This applied to lessons as well as to behavior management. She taught me to always keep my eye on the goal. I remember getting an email from a teacher wanting to know how to make cat’s eyes because she thought it would be fun. My question to her was what is she trying to teach and does this fit the curriculum goals. The answer was no. To often teachers involve themselves in grand activities because it is fun or it is what they believe the should do. This often applies to how teachers use behavior management in the classroom. It is being done because it is what they see other teachers do and it is strongly supported by educational materials suppliers. If nothing else, I hope this debate gets all of us to look at the “WHY?” of our use of rewards in the classroom.

The use of rewards should always have the goal of producing a long term change in behavior. This involves continual evaluation of the effectiveness of the type of reward, the frequency at which it is given, its effect on the behavior, and gradual elimination of the reward. Have I found reward systems to work on all kids. NO! I have had the most success with students who have moderate behavioral or academic needs. I have, however, had great success with many students and have been able to eliminate the reward system entirely for most by the end of the school year.

Behavior is a result of something and sometimes that something is called learned behaviors. These can be learned at home or from previous teachers. There are also students who have not been successful in the classroom and sometimes rewards can motivate them to the point at which they can begin to be successful. Once they are successful in the classroom, these rewards can gradually be eliminated.

Like much of teaching, rewards systems have to be adjusted to meet the needs of the children and the desires and goals of the teacher. Will the same reward system work in all classrooms? NO! Will the same reward system work all year? NO! Do all teachers need to use reward systems? NO! Can a correctly implemented pattern of rewards assist in modifying the behavior of some children? YES. (Note, please notice the qualifications in the above sentence.)

It is like the debate on basal readers. My wife and I both don’t like them and don’t use them in our classrooms. We are both literature based and are successful as measured on several standardized tests as well as their scores on Accelerated Reader. Does that mean we believe that all teachers should stop using basal readers? No. Some teachers have a strong faith in basal readers and can make them work. Our only quarrel is with those teachers who swear by the basal readers and continually produce children who are not readers.

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