Why aren’t rewards working?

Good overview and looking forward to the follow-up posts!

Joe Kirby


“Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

Lewis Carroll’s Dodo, Alice in Wonderland

Reward systems hold the promise of digital tracking of students’ effort and decisions in lessons. But sometimes they backfire, as this teacher points out:

“When the new system was introduced, one of my pupils shouted: ‘You get points just for showing up! What does that teach us?’ Looking later at the stats, I noticed that the top five reward earners were the worst behaved students in the entire school. Prizes were simply being used as a way of getting kids to do what they should be doing anyway, rather than to reward students for going the extra mile. The attitude was ‘oh well, I’ll get more later anyway, I can’t be bothered to answer these questions, so I won’t’. That’s when it struck me: giving out unmerited rewards all the time actually legitimised their poor behaviour.”

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