Behind Your Rewards: Is It Really Motivating?



An article titled “Get Rewards for Reading Books” was posted this 2009 at the Evening Post, Nottinghamshire. Briefly, the writer wrote that “Children are being challenged to read six books over the summer holidays - collecting stickers and rewards as they go”. Another article was published in Sentinel; it was about the similar thing which is using a star chart as a way to encourage good behavior. The article clearly stated that the star chart is a popular way that parents chose to make their child obey them. By those two articles above, it is obvious that the reward system has become a powerful way to make children perform. But, is it true? Do children will really do well if adults give them rewards? Unfortunately, the answer will be no. Rewards, in this case the external ones, will eventually turn off children internal motivation and at the end it will not make children perform better.

When adults, in this case teachers or parents, give reward to children, they actually want to motivate the children. Adults understand that motivation is an important part of human living. In their entire life, from baby to senior, people will do something because they have motivation. So does a child. Adults see that children did not perform well because they do not have enough motivation. The lack of motivation makes them not studying, not doing their homework, not getting good grades, not wanting to read, and so on, you named it. Therefore, adults want to help them by giving them the motivation they need. Rewards, such as stickers, trophy, stars, points, even money, seem to be the good solution. The rewards can be children motivation. That is why parents and teachers love it. They use rewards to motivate children. If a child does something ‘good’, he/she will get the sticker. Then, he/she can collect the stickers and exchange it with something that he/she wants. Children will be motivated and want to get more stickers so that they can have things they want. It is a win-win solution, isn’t it? Sounds good and effective, right? Nothing seems wrong with it. Eventually, that is only happened on the beginning. If parents and teachers giving the stickers continually, the side effect will starts to occur. Just like what I have experienced few years ago when I was teaching my kindergarten students. After the story time I started to ask questions to them as I want know whether or not they grasp the message of the story and one of them, instead of answering my question, was saying this to me, “Will we get sticker if we answer the question?” Wow! That question just went straight to my mind and it made me think further. What have I done so that this child asked that question? Will he answer the question or participate in the class learning if he hadn’t been promised to get the sticker? Did I just create a ‘sticker demanding’ child? Thus, make me rethink about the method I used to make my students participate and learn in the class.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the rewards. Everyone needs it. It is always be a part of basic human need, as Maslow put the “respect of others” and “respect by others” in the fourth place in his pyramid of hierarchy of human’s needs. But then, a further question occurs. Do the rewards really motivate the children? Parents or teachers might say yes since they see their children or students showed an “improvement” in their school performance. Students are competing each other to earn more stars, more stickers, more rewards. People will say that these children are being motivated. But do they? What will happen if this “motivation” being taken from their life? Will these children still perform if there are no rewards given or promised to them? If that so, does it mean that adults will always need to give rewards to make them perform?

Motivation itself came into two types, internal and external. Internal motivation is a motivation that come from inside, as the name “intern” explain the meaning itself. On the contrary, external motivation come from outside. It is a motivation that been given by another people. Between those two motivations, which one is better? The answer must be internal motivation. Something that come from inside always is the best thing. To make the connection, rewards is an external motivation; it is given by parents or teachers to children. Therefore, the reward is not as good as the internal motivation.

Then, does it mean that parents and teacher should stop giving any rewards? Definitely no! External rewards still have their benefit. It just needs to be controlled and limited. Why? Because if people use it as the first way and the only way to make children perform, it will slowly diminish the joy of learning that children get in the process of learning. Bryner confirms that “When kids are encouraged to work for grades, they become less interested in the learning itself...the more they’re focused on getting an A or a sticker, the more they come to see the learning itself as a tedious prerequisite to that goody” (Bryner 19).  Moreover, in 1999,  Deci, Koestner, and Ryan  did a meta-analysis which concludes that “expected tangible rewards, such as pay, awards, and prizes, decrease [internal] motivation” (Eisenberger, Pierce, and Cameron 677). Therefore, people need to be aware by the effect of an external reward since it might “undermined motivation” (Landen and Willem 283). A lot of consideration needs to be made before someone decides to use an external reward to make children motivated. Thus, the using of external rewards need to be controlled and be stopped before it takes away the internal motivation (Landen and Willem 284). Parents and teacher should always think twice before they give any external rewards to children.

Actually, to make children learning, external rewards are not necessary. Children have always and will always be someone who has a curiosity and willing to learn. They like to explore. They enjoy learning new thing. It is adult who took the excitement of learning by alter it with the rewards. It is adult who takes away the internal motivation and replace it with the external motivation. It is adult who don’t understand what these children are really needs. Children will prefer to have a strong relation and bond with their surrounding than getting the prize (Wilson 53). Adults can help children to build their internal motivation, or actually strengthen it since they already have the internal motivation from the beginning, by giving the support that they need. Rather than giving prizes, parents should dedicate more quality time with their children, or giving encouragement children need by giving feedback such as a simple praise. Furthermore, children need to be given a chance or opportunity to make them being heard; it is very powerful. If it’s not because of his teacher giving him a chance to read his composition in front of the class and praise him, Rusell Baker will not have the motivation he need to pursue his dream in becoming a writer. He surely feels very motivated and pleased as he writes that “what I was feeling was pure ecstasy at this startling demonstration” (Baker 202). Baker’s teacher did not promise him a good grade or an extra point to make him motivated. His teacher gave him a chance, the chance to be in front of the class, reading his writing, and being acknowledged. Thus, it makes the chance and praise becoming an important part of nourishing internal motivation. If that praise works on a third year student, it will definitely works on children.

Lots have been said and the decision is totally in the individual parents and teachers’ hand. Whether or not they decide to use the rewards to “motivate” children, the consequence is clearly appear. If adults still use an external reward as the primary way to make children learn, they are creating the reward demanding children, which is absolutely not the kind of children that actually they want to have. Internal motivation is always be the best solution. Something that is come from inside will always has more power than something that come from outside. Therefore, internal motivation cannot be replaced by any stickers, stars or other forms of external reward.
Submitted for Skyline College ESOL 400 research paper on December 12th, 2012

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