I suppose there will always be two (or more?) schools of thought about external motivation and the impact of rewards on behaviour and learning.  I still often read things that catch my eye on the topic and I try to stay open to different ideas, theories and research.

A few articles recently made me go, “Huh? Hmmm”.

The first was really about introverts, but it referenced a study about external stimuli and rewards.  The author of the article suggested that the findings may indicate that introverts rely less on external rewards than extroverts.  The study and its purpose was a bit confusing to me.  If extroverts respond more to stimuli (rewards) in their environment, does that mean they need or should have rewards (external motivation) more?  I am not sure if it is that “cut and dried” and maybe some other variables need to be considered.  It is still a pretty good article about introverts, What it really means to be an introvert, according to a psychologist.

The second article was about screen time, and another study. One finding was:

For parents who use screen time as either a punishment or a reward, children’s screen time increased — particularly on weekends. The researchers found that, when used as a behavioral tactic, children spent about 20 more minutes per day in front of screens over the weekend.”

Not really a “huh..” from me on that one.  More like a “duh, of course..” 🙂  But should they have considered the introvert/extrovert question?

A third article was about what a middle school is doing to reward good grades, attendance and behaviour:  School is giving kids free movie tix, credit card-like perks to show up, get good grades.  I struggled with that one with a big “Huh?”  I know educators are often concerned about low attendance rates though.

I read 2 more postings on the topic which got more of a “Yes!” from me.  5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Unmotivated Students is a 2016 post, but it showed up in my Twitter timeline recently.  It’s a good post with a Q&A format to help teachers reflect on their instruction.  The author dug into the research on motivation and summarized her findings with these statements:

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.
  5. Students are motivated to learn things that have relevance to their lives.

Lastly, a tweet by someone informed me that this was a very popular read on the ASCD site: Tear Down Your Behavior Chart!  Good stuff.  I like the summation at the end of the article,

Let’s stop “managing behaviors” and instead guide and support engagement, persistence, and positive interactions. Let’s build relationships that promote growth of the whole child—and the skills each student needs for a lifetime of positive interactions and success.”

Is there any meeting in the middle of the “schools of thought” on this topic?  How do schools and families “meet up” on this topic?

Please share any thoughts you have on any of the articles, or share what has helped you sort out questions about motivation and/or rewards.

**post update Mar. 7/19:  I read a recent blog post by Lisa Cranston and wanted to add it here.  She provided some further related reading and discussion about behaviour charts and offered some alternative ideas to using them:  Beyond Behavior Charts