Why I say No to rewards

22 Jan

Recently I shared on my facebook page a post from Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension titled “Put Your Name on the Board – A Tale of Why I Gave Up Classroom Discipline Systems” and it got me thinking… At the end of last year, colleague offered me some bits and bobs to add to my ‘surprise box’ and was baffled when I responded with ‘no thanks, I don’t do rewards’.I'm not telling you it's going to be easyDuring courses at university it became evident that classroom behaviour management relies on students having a firm understanding of expectations and the consequences if expectations are not met.  Discussion around this topic often focused on preventative measures of behaviour management in the form of rewards systems; whole class and individual.  The idea behind these systems is to externally motivate students to work towards meeting expectations in order to gain something positive for themselves.  On professional experience placements I was confronted by students who did not respond to the sticker charts, table points or treat boxes according to the text book examples I had studied.  I saw children demonstrating whole body listening when I was holding a whiteboard marker (just in case table points where on offer) and then bickering and teasing when my back was turned.  I heard the words “I’m not picking that up, it’s not mine” until pack up time when the first group to clear up received bonus points.  I felt the disappointment of students who didn’t care about producing their best quality work and when provided with opportunities to improve, they simple shrugged and sighed ‘I never get any table points anyway’.  I was disheartened to say the least.

I became more and more unsettled with the idea of using such systems in my classroom.  I believe that teaching is preparing students to become active, effective, positive members of society; equipped with the skills to think laterally and creatively, work collaboratively and persist in problem solving when things get tough.  I thought, if these are the traits that I hope to see in these future adults, what can I do to nurture them in their childhood? I can believe in their ability to do their best, support them in making mistakes and developing resilience and nurture their desire to be a part of a caring, safe community.

It's ok to not know but it's not ok to not try

I want my students to realise that they have control of the learning environment that they participate in each and every day.  I want them to truly believe that the expectations we have agreed on together are there to protect them and help them be successful.  I want my class to feel empowered to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their classmates.  I want them to be intrinsically motivated to do their best, be their best and push others to do the same.  How can I say that this is what I believe and expect of my students, and still provide superficial rewards ‘just in case’ my high expectations are not enough?  I can’t.  So, from the beginning of my first year of teaching I decided that I do not do rewards.

This is not to say that students in my class are never rewarded.  Not at all.  Rather, the kinds of rewards they experience are those they work to achieve for themselves.  Not every child is intrinsically motivated, nor does every child come from a background that values or models that kind of drive but I don’t believe that means I should lower my expectations of them.  How much more important it is for those children to have the opportunity to learn these skills!

These are some of the ways that I set my students up to experience success and create their own positive learning environment, sans stickers, points and prizes.

  • Providing consistent, explicit, high expectations for ALL students in regards to their behaviour and work ethic.
  • Modelling ways of supporting others to successfully meet expectations (We talk a lot about strengths and areas for development and how we can constructively share our observations of these with our peers).
  • Giving LOTS of positive reinforcement and public praise, ensuring feedback and is specific and outlines what it was that allowed the student to be successful (“I love how you persisted with that activity and broke it down into smaller parts when you found it difficult”).
  • Talking about the things that they value about our classroom and the impact they personally have on those elements (“If we do not put things back where they belong things get lost and we no longer have access to equipment that we love to use”).
  • Using quality children’s literature to highlight examples of the expectations that we are looking for in our classroom.
  • Regularly referring to our school’s Learning Assets (collaboration, self-management, communication, deep thinking, researching) as they are demonstrated by students.
  • Creating opportunities for whole class problem solving activities when consequences need to be reflected on and a more positive alternative to the behaviour identified for all students.

These are just some of the ways that I create a positive, student centred classroom environment in which all students have the opportunity to do the right thing, not because they will be rewarded but because they value the effects of working as a community and appreciate the excitement of achieving through persistence and hard work.


5 Responses to “Why I say No to rewards”

  1. Karrine Beasley January 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    This sounds really interesting Sami! I think it’s a great idea and I read the other article you shared aswell but I’m not sure how you actually go about initially implementing this into the classroom. Did your class ever ask why the other classes were getting rewards and they weren’t? I’d also love to know how you handle negative behaiour in a class that’s running like this? {Perhaps you could write another post on it}. The best behaviour management I ever saw in practice was a combination of helping students set goals and find intrinsic motication mixed with rewards and an all round 100% focus on celebrating positive behaviour. A great post! 🙂

    • Mrs Wansink January 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

      Hi Karrine,

      I will get right on writing another follow up post. I knew it would raise questions, just wasn’t sure how to tackle them all at once without rambling 🙂

      My class never noticed that they were any different and never complained about the lack of rewards, even after having relief teachers who did implement rewards systems. I guess as it was never an option they just got used to it. And they still were feeling supported and successful so they had no reason to wish for things to be different.

      I too have a focus on goal setting and celebrating positive behaviour, just without the inclusion of rewards. I don’t want my students to think they deserve to be rewarded for doing what is right and kind – the reward is feeling included, safe and successful.

      It will be interesting to see how I go with my new class this year. It is still new to me and scary in the beginning but I am determined to stick to my guns on this one 🙂

      I will begin working on a second post 🙂 Thanks for sharing you thoughts 🙂

      • Ivan January 28, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

        I think one of the things you are saying is that you highly value intrinsic motivation, and don’t want to damage it by using extrinsic motivation. I think this is in line with Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by rewards”, which I’ve always meant to read.

        What’s really interesting about this discussion to me is that unlike spelling, maths, writing, you name it, there appears to be no real agreement on how best to motivate students, and teachers use a very wide variety of approaches from yours all the way through to lots and lots of lollies and other rewards for good behaviour. It would be interesting to survey a big group of teachers and see how prevalent reward systems are. It would also be interesting to ask teachers the question “On what evidence is your approach based?”.

        In my limited experience, different students seem to respond to the low/no-reward approach differently – some seem to have been trained to expect rewards often, and find it hard to challenge themselves in their learning and social skills.

        Wouldn’t it be nice to have a reasonably consistent whole school approach to rewards? I don’t really mind if a relief teacher wants to use them just for a day to help with behaviour, but bouncing from one year to the next with different approaches in each classroom must be a bit confusing for the students!

        What do you think? Your next big challenge? 🙂

      • Mrs Wansink January 31, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

        Exactly 🙂 In many ways I do not want to harm students’ intrinsic motivating by distracting them or ‘training’ them to respond to rewards only.

        It would be great to have enough people to have a discussion and make comparisons – I wonder how many people employ an evidence based approach and how many simply do what ‘feels right’ or follow the trend of the school.

        I believe this year will challenge my resolve on this issue but I am determined to stand firm – if nothing else it will provide me with some interesting experiences to reflect on.

        It would be lovely if a school could be on the same track – I think that would be difficult though because this is all very deeply rooted in a person’s own experience/philosophy/practice etc. In order to implement anything effectively in a classroom I believe the teacher involved needs to feel some level of ownership – a whole school approach, whilst ideal, would make this difficult.

        A potential inquiry perhaps? Let’s tackle this challenge together 🙂


  1. PART 2: Why I say No to rewards | Teacher on Training Wheels - February 1, 2014

    […] post, Why I say No to Rewards generated some questions from my readers (YAY!) so I thought it was worth while posting a Part 2 to […]

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