We know that rewarding fosters competition to see who gets the most number of rewards. We also know that using rewards as incentives to young people fosters feelings of punishments to those in school who believe they should have received a reward, but didn’t.
Recently a teacher relayed a story to me that perfectly sums up the pitfalls of relying on rewards. Her story is a perfect illustration of how external manipulators (giving rewards as reinforcers) do not do what adults would like them to do, namely, transfer the desired motivation.
“I have a cute story about rewards in the classroom. I teach first grade, and sometimes just getting the kids to remember their folders and to sharpen pencils is a chore. I usually start out the year reminding them, nagging them, and finally giving up. THEY don’t care if they have a folder or a pencil. I’m the only one who seems bothered.
“So I put a sticker chart in their folders and offer stickers and trips to the treasure box if they come prepared. I KNOW it’s not helping, and it bothers me every day as I waste time on this activity, but at least they have pencils when we start to work.
“One day recently I was monitoring the kids’ work. I commented to one boy about his pencil. It was really short and dull. He said it was all he had, but in his pencil holder on his desk there were three long sharp pencils just sitting there. I asked him about those. He said, ‘But those are my sharp pencils! I don’t use those. Those are just for getting stickers!’
“It took me all year to realize that this kid had used the same pencil EVERY DAY to get a sticker but never used a sharp pencil to write with! So much for external motivation transferring to internal motivation!”