Barb Bianco on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards

From Discovery Educator Barb Bianco:

Peace, Goodwill Toward All, and Doing The Right Thing is just plain hard!

Do I want to bake brownies for the PTA mtg. with my child or buy them at the local bakery and have some peace for myself in the evening? Do I write a lesson plan that addresses the whole class and takes 30 min. or do I write a lesson plan with different levels and expectations for the students based on what I know about their abilities, likes, and dislikes?

How do I make myself take the harder, but more rewarding path? How can we be our best selves and ultimately, the better role model for our children?

Could Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards be the key?

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards were the hot topic at our last faculty meeting. Basically, an extrinsic reward is anything (candy, praise, grades) given as a reward from you to the student. Intrinsic rewards (those feelings that motivate you from within) are elusive, but more rewarding. In the past, it has always been the policy of our school to stay away from extrinsic rewards.

Don’t all of us wish that we made our choices based on a sense of self-worth? I see this lack of inner voice in my own children at home. It’s so tempting to offer them money for grades "I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you get straight A’s." You might be interested to know that not one of my three sons took me up on that offer. It was too much work. They didn’t need the money enough to meet the challenge. But what if they had? How much would I have had to offer next time? Would this cause jealously among brothers? Is it fair, knowing that they are not equally talented in academic achievement?

Extrinsic rewards are easier to give. My 7th grade son, recently told me how his Social Studies teacher wore an apron to school with large pockets filled with candy. In an effort to review for a test, students received a piece of candy for every correct answer. My son liked that.

What about the student who didn’t receive even one piece of candy? How did this extrinsic motivation make that child feel? How long did he listen to the review before he gave up trying? How many children really benefited from the review?  What if you were a child with braces and couldn’t eat candy? What about the overweight child who is doing his/her best to stay away from sweets?

I thought, "How could that teacher have helped her students review for
the test in a more meaningful way?"

One manner would be to have the students choose from a list of projects that addressed the content needed for the test. Engaging projects would cause the material to be remembered. Students helping each other would likewise make the material more concrete. Students could present their findings. Presentations encourage students to check their work for errors and to have it look good. Pride comes from knowing that they put forth their best effort. Finally, the peer audience would learn from the material presented.

As a parent and teacher, I want what is best for all of my children. Would intrinsic rewards be a start in the right direction?

In my research of this subject, there is one conclusion that stands out, “… extrinsic rewards reliably undermine intrinsic motivation…” The more we extrinsically reward children, the more we undermine their ability to hear their inner voices.

Intrinsic Rewards  provide positive choices, allow alternative solutions, minimize pressure, promote success, encourage originality, create meaningful lessons, and make lessons stimulating.

Some examples of teachers using intrinsic rewards:

"For instance, if doing a lesson on money, don’t settle with the workbook activities that have them circle the correct amount. Instead, have them create a mall in the classroom where they have to actually use currency to purchase and sell different goodies the class has made."

"Focus on the excitement of what is being learned and children will understand the value in the lesson, as opposed to focusing on a reward that is promised when the students finish. For instance, a teacher could be doing a lesson on periods by having a paragraph without any punctuation. She could say, "Okay, as soon as we figure out where to put the periods, we will have free time" or she could read the paragraph sounding really long-winded and then say "Now doesn’t that sound silly.
Who can help me figure out where to put some periods in, so that I can take a breath when I read this?" The same objective is taught, but the second teacher definitely focuses on the importance of the lesson."

"Encourage self-evaluation instead of dependency on teacher approval. If a child has completed an assignment do not say,” Good job Billy! Instead, bring them into the evaluation, "I see that you finished! How do you feel that you did?”

In conclusion, how we choose to teach, to motivate and reward students could
have profound and far reaching consequences.

So, I ask you, Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

Here are a couple links to more sites about Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards:


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One Comment;

  1. Martha Williams said:

    I agree totally with what you are saying. But given the student population I am dealing with I need to do something more meaningful for my students. They produce a morning news show and when I tell them they did a good job–they ask if I am going to give them candy. I feel that I am fighting an uphill battle. I talk to them about pride in a job well done-but I don’t think we are on the same level of thinking. It seems that if it is not “here and now” it has no effect on them.

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