Classroom Rewards: Will They Work? Education Hygiene Ep#2

Welcome to the Education Hygiene Series in which I will be explaining the specific teacher behaviors that scientists have found influence student motivation for better ... and for worse.

Today is episode two in which we are talking about classroom rewards.
There are two items that reflect clear results from teachers using rewards.
• Use praise as a contingent reward
• Provide rewards unfairly
It probably seems obvious to you that providing them unfairly would be negative, but using praise as a contingent reward is also negative because students are smart enough to realize when it is a crass manipulation of their behavior.

Classroom Rewards Episode Links:

Step-Dad Atlantic Article
Texas Classroom Reward System

Series Links: 

Survey- Teachers’ Effects on Student Motivation
Newsletter- Holistic Equity
Intro to Education Hygiene

 Hygiene Items: Ahmadi, A., Noetel, M., Parker, P. D., Ryan, R., Ntoumanis, N., Reeve, J., ... Lonsdale, C. (2022, February 4). A Classification System for Teachers’ Motivational Behaviours Recommended in Self-Determination Theory Interventions. https://

There is an extensive literature on rewards more generally.
What that literature boils down to is that rewards are usually expensive & unsustainable with some specific exceptions.
The exceptions are for tasks that are boring, unskilled, or both.

A writer for the Atlantic who became the step-father of three children under ten discovered this and wrote a nice piece about his experience.
His article was called, “I Thought I’d Found a Cheat Code for Parenting.”
His potential “cheat code” was to reward his kids with points for desired behaviors and setting up a leveling system in which they could cash in large numbers of points for special treats.

Classroom Rewards via App?

Classroom Rewards App?

Schools in Dallas, Texas, are setting up a similar system with the help of a company called CritterCoin that uses an app to enable teachers to award points, like the magic- based system used at Hogwarts.

Now my first instinct is to trash talk the CritterCoin app because when you put a private, for-profit company in charge of a motivational system geared towards children I cringe at the possibilities for abuse.

But, let’s be clear that there are nuances to how rewards affect human behavior. 

The first feature of the system worthy of note is that the app is paid for by the district and there does not appear to be any way for the kids to be directly exploited for money.
Next, we note that recent research on rewards has clarified that when rewards are perceived as manipulations, they are negative.

If, on the other hand, they are perceived to be informative in a useful way about how well one is performing, then they can be positive.

Unfortunately, that particular effect has only been studied directly in the lab with adults, it has not been directly studied in the classroom.
Hopefully, the CritterCoin people will allow some qualified and independent academic researchers to study the effects of their system.

Assuming that the lab results will hold in the classroom, which is a dubious assumption, then there is a possibility that the system could have a positive effect.
The problems that are likely to arise are with how teachers will use the system.
If they use it as a tool of behavioral manipulation, in the long term they will not be doing any favors for either their students nor their future selves, or the colleagues those students end up with.
If they are careful about how they use it, then it might end up being a positively useful tool in their toolbox.

Let me know what you think by clicking on the Contact link on my site.
For deeper dives into school reform visit
There you can also find out about my book Schooling for Holistic Equity: How to Manage the Hidden Curriculum in K-12.
One final thing, if you want find out how much you already know about Teachers' Effects on Student Motivation I created a survey where you can compare your knowledge of motivation with what scientists have found.
Links below the video on my site
Thanks for watching.

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