In other words, are schools too quick to pull out extrinsic rewards (stickers, ice cream, drawings for prizes...) as a way to promote attendance?
I was thinking about this last week after reading the follow-up article on the Georgia program which paid students to study. (I blogged about this in January...Motivation Matters has more.) Thirty-five students finished the 15-week program.
At the rate of $8 an hour or $32 a week, Jailyn and the other students had the chance to earn $480 by the end of the school year. The amount they actually earned was tied to their attendance and participation.
Taylor said Jailyn put a lot of his money in a savings account.
"We also used this opportunity to teach budgeting and how to spend money," she said. "And in the end, he didn't do it for the money. He did it for himself."This sounds great, but I admit I'm still suspicious. What will happen in the fall when Jailyn and the others aren't given money to do what they should be doing? If behavioral research is any indicator, the levels of motivation will decrease---and potentially be lower than before the program was implemented.
I talked to an area principal who is wrestling with some significant student attendance issues. The immediate reaction is to go the rewards route. I'm not convinced this is the right path. Don't we first need to know why students aren't coming to school? Will a sticker or a promise of an ice cream bar change that for the long term? Or will it just reinforce a sense of entitlement?
Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to think that one of the primary purposes of schooling is to foster a love of learning. If the school is a place where kids want to be, they will come. Are we creating extrinsic reward junkies in our elementary schools only to have them disengage and drop out at upper grades when the stickers stop? Dealing with student engagement issues, lesson design, and high quality instruction is far more labor and time intensive than just buying a bunch of stickers, but isn't that what we should be doing?