I’ve been reading Drive by Daniel Pink and it is amazing. (I’ll be posting more about this book later this week.) At the same time, I’m receiving a variety of catalogs in the mail in anticipation for back to school. On the one hand I am learning about intrinsic motivation: the idea that we have an innate tendency to be challenged and to learn. On the other hand I am intrigued by the colorful little fun things things I see on the pages of the catalog. I want to purchase these little toys as rewards and incentives for my students.
And so I am faced with this interesting dilemma. Will fun, but essentially useless toys be worth the purchase? Should I go down that road this year? Or go totally Pink and rethink rewards altogether?
A few months back, I took a class as part of my Arts, Leadership and Learning CAGS degree program through Plymouth State University and my professor, Bethany Nelson warned us against what I’ll call The Seal Effect. The idea is that if you want a seal to do a trick, entice it with a fish. The seal will know it’s coming and do whatever you want. She’d clap her hands together in front of her and move her neck out and up as if catching fish whenever someone would mention rewards. It was corny and, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes the first time, but it did get me thinking. When we entice kids with rewards, what is it really doing? Is it telling them that for everything you do right, you’re going to get a treat? “What a treat? Do what I ask.”
And then there is the reward itself. My friend and colleague, Beth Cavalier and I have had this conversation a few times about our kids (both our students and our children.) Her main concern is that when we give these little rewards, students disregard them. It’s just another toy to marvel at for one moment and lose the next – no biggie. In other words, they have no real value. I liken it to the end of the year awards where everyone gets one and no one feels special for what they have truly accomplished.
One year, in high school at the end of a color guard season, our team ALL received, not just the same award, but we each got a trophy that stated, “Most Improved, Best Performance, Greatest Effort.” Are you kidding me? I got the first trophy because I was the captain and as soon as I saw we all got the same, my trophy meant absolutely NOTHING! You can’t kid me!
I realize there are no absolutes and I understand that some students will treasure the things they have received and hopefully earned as a reward. But I really believe there is something to this intrinsic motivation and it could hold a huge key to the long lasting motivation of my students.
I would love to hear your opinions on rewards and am looking forward to writing more on this topic focusing more on Pink’s ideas for Thursday. Please add your comments!