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Incentives Don't Work

I have been a homeschool mom, an Art teacher and a second grade teacher and in each of those capacities, there is one thing that never worked...Incentives.

Classroom management is not a one size fits all approach by any means and at the end of the day, we're all simply doing the best we can to help our students stay motivated and learn. This is a subject matter that I am so passionate about that I have chosen to dedicate my dissertation to the subject matter. I won't bore you with the endless reasons why I am anti-incentive, but I will highlight my top reasons.

Short term gains but long term losses

Incentive- based classrooms are often seen as a solution to motivate students and improve their academic performance. Offer rewards in exchange for a desired behavior or academic achievement. While this seems like a good idea initially, a further look at this idea leads to the discovery that while there may be some short-term gains, students become less intrinsically motivated to learn in the long run which hinders their ability to develop a passion for growth and learning.

A rewards treadmill mentality

When students require incentives in order to maintain their engagement and performance, teachers are constantly having to escalate the rewards in order to keep students motivated. This is not sustainable in the long run and ends up undermining the learning goals. Students will memorize in order to meet the immediate goals because they are focused on the reward but they may not truly be understanding the material.

Loss of self-worth

Incentive-based classrooms can emphasize differences in students. Students who face challenges or have learning difficulties can be left behind. It is easy for them to feel left behind or lost in the classroom. Competition for rewards can lead to a less cooperative learning environment and hinder a student's sense of belonging.

In Conclusion

While incentives may seem like a good idea for a short term motivation tool, the long-term benefits such as intrinsic motivation, creativity, critical thinking, classroom community, are compromised because rewards become more important than the actual learning process.

So what can teachers do instead? Teachers can inspire their students to love learning by engaging them in meaningful learning experiences. They can focus on a growth mindset mentality and emphasize the value of knowledge. This lays a better foundation for students to be lifelong learners. I'll share more in an upcoming post about ways that I do this in my classroom.



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