Rewards: Do they achieve what you want?

As educators we can ask questions about the use of rewards. These include:

  • What is the purpose of rewards?;
  • Do rewards achieve the intended purpose?; or
  • Do they assist students to become internally motivated for learning?

Teachers often reward a student for good work. These might be in the form of stickers, sticker charts or the selection of a “treasure chest”. The teachers aim may be to reward good work or as a form of external motivation for their students.

The following two examples have led me to re-question the use of rewards:

  1. For good work a teacher was giving a sticker. The student said to the teacher that they did not want that sticker but they wanted another sticker – the shiny one over there.
  2. For consistent effort a student was allowed to choose an reward for a reward box. The student looked in through the box turned to the teacher and asked “what else have you got?”

In both of the case above the discussion moves from an important issue of the student’s work to discussion about the reward. That opportunity for immediate quality feedback had gone and the ensuing discussion was about the reward not learning.  With precious time devoted to the discussion on the reward are we inadvertently telling the student that the reward is more important than the learning? Are we inadvertently conditioning the student to be externally motivated?

Authors such as Hattie show that effective feedback has one of the greatest influences on student learning (effect size =1.13). Effective feedback includes telling what a student has done well, how they can improve as well as helping them clarify learning goals. It is unclear how a reward by itself can provide effective feedback. A discussion on the nature of the reward takes us further from what is important for student learning: effective feedback.

Many authors, eg Marvin Marshal, have argued that rewards are an ineffective mechanism for motivating students. Rewards may lead to compliance but not commitment nor engagement. The promotion of internal motivation through student choice, collaboration or empowerment are more powerful motivators.

What are your views on using rewards in the classroom are they they effective?

How do we measure student engagment?

Wordle: Student engagement What does student engagement in a classroom look like? How do you know that a student is engaged in learning?

We often hear that students or engaged in learning, classes are engaged in learning, that a particular task is engaging or that particular strategies such as games based learning or project based learning are engaging but how do you know they are engage students in learning?

 Some have argued that engagment is one of the most misused term in education. There is a difference between a student being on task and in task. A student who is on task may not be engaged they are “doing” the task but they may be cognitively disconnected from the task and not emotional commected to the task.

To be explicit I will follow the definition used in the Fair Go project   that suggests student engagement operates at three levels:

  • cognititive – thinking (head)
  • affective – feeling (heat)
  • operative – doing (hands)

So how do you know if a student is engaged (in task) that is they have their engaged their head, heart and hands in the task? Is engagement too difficult to measure within a classroom?

Do measures of enagement include:

  • the number of questions a students asks? Especially those the teacher does not know the answer?
  • the time the student spends on the task outside normal classroom times?
  • the discussions on the topic?

What are your measures of student engagement in the classroom?