Reward for a job well done has positives and negatives

Derek GoforthMidwest Times
Primary school classroom with boys and girls sitting on chairs and young woman standing at the front
Camera IconPrimary school classroom with boys and girls sitting on chairs and young woman standing at the front Credit: Getty Images

Working in education I have had my fair share of the concept of “reward”, as in receiving a reward for a job well done.

Getting a prize or acknowledgement for a job well done or something achieved.

It isn’t limited just to education, but it does feature in pretty much every year level and type of school. To be honest, I see the benefits and given the choice I certainly would not be in favour of getting rid of rewards.

The benefits seem obvious; rewards can engage students, can motivate students and can essentially keep students on track.

Something as simple as a little voucher or coupon can be all a teacher needs to encourage a student to give a little extra in a task or assignment.

But there is a vocal argument that says rewards have simply gone too far and even that students should see the learning goal as the central reward for their actions — not an additional gift of reward system.

I think the answer, as it often does, falls in the middle — a balance between a sense of satisfaction from learning and a little extra something that perhaps, for the more difficult, motivates students.

The report, Healthy through habit: Interventions for initiating and maintaining health behaviour change, shows evidence that rewards can encourage continued behaviour change.

It describes them as a “central component” of habit formation, but what happens if the reward becomes the central motivation for the student?

For example, rewarding attendance at school. How reasonable is this?

Could it even be said that through rewarding high attendance we are therefore punishing students who have been ill or off school for legitimate reasons?

Do you reward your own children for housework? We do, but maybe we shouldn’t.

Perhaps the satisfaction of a well swept floor or polished dishes should be reward enough? But I am not sure my kids would agree.

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