What is my belief? Firstly, I was thinking that the reward concept is firmly connected to my beliefs about good teaching and learning. I believe that engagement is the key and if kids are engaged, then there should be no need for points etc. Learning and success in learning are reward enough. I do also believe firmly in verbal praise and positive acknowledgement.
What would I do as an adult? However looking at the other side of the coin, I asked myself, would I work, even if I loved it, for no reward, acknowledgement or praise? The answer is probably not all of the time. Would I work extra for no overtime? Not if I had a choice? Would I do extra hours for no time in my bank? Not unless I had. Would I do my best work if there was no acknowledgement or praise along the way? Not after a while. So from a child’s point of view, wouldnt it be the same?
The age and stage of students: So reflecting back, I found that younger children often need more praise, acknowledgement or physical rewards more frequently and often. This helps build good learning habits. In my experience, as they get older, children need less physical and frequent rewards but need just as much positive praise and acknowledgement. Older students used to say “no I don’t need a sticker but thanks for telling me that I did a good job”. Some even enjoyed the positive praise being communicated with their parents or carers.
My view external rewards: Giving stickers and physical rewards does have a down side. Kids do not do some things unless they get it. Students can become overly competitive. The other downside that I have found is that students put in less effort if they don’t get something out of it. Don’t get me wrong. The odd certificate, sticker, stamp or point system goes a long way. But I have found that it is better when it is a surprise and authentic. I prefer to connect physical rewards and awards to learning success. Especially with younger students. More frequent rewards along the way help start to move students from external to internal motivation.
So in the end, I come to the conclusion that praise and positive comments are a most powerful motivator and reward. Success in itself is also a reward for effort. However, each child is exceptionally different and therefore some need the external motivators and rewards. A combination of physical rewards, internal motivation and learning achievement can build learning success. At the end of this reflection, I conclude that no matter what the system or reward choice, all children need some sort of acknowledgement of their efforts and learning. Exactly like we do as adults.