Rewards & Punishments in Teaching Methods

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The effectiveness of punishment versus reward in classroom management is an ongoing issue for education professionals. Both tactics provide teachers with leverage when working with disruptive and self-motivated students. Before you decide whether to motivate students with rewards or manage with consequences, you should explore both options.

The Positive Side of Rewards

  • Many teachers want to keep a positive atmosphere in their classroom. One way they maintain this is by using rewards to motivate students. These are offered in a variety of ways, such as a treat for completing homework on time or extra recess for good behavior. Rewards work for the students who receive them and those who do not: Seeing a high-achieving student enjoy a reward may inspire a disruptive student to focus on her work.

The Positive Side of Punishments

  • Educators often choose punishments when rules are not followed. They lay out guidelines when the year begins and list what the punishments will be if the rules are not followed. The punishments, or consequences, usually involve withholding something the student enjoys. For example, a disruptive student may be kept in at recess time or serve detention after school. A student who frequently distracts his peers from learning will be deterred if he knows he will not receive a class treat at the end of the month.

Reward Drawbacks

  • Though rewards motivate students to participate in school, the reward may become their only motivation. While many students may aim to please their teacher, some might turn in assignments just for the reward. Education critic Alfie Kohn, author of "Punished by Rewards," argues that some research shows that a reward will get the assignment turned in, but the work might be well below the student's potential. If you choose to implement rewards in your classroom, keep an eye out for students who may need encouragement to do their best.

Punishment Drawbacks

  • Fear of punishment gets most students to follow clearly articulated rules. Mentioning these punishments to a disruptive student, or one whose work ethic has been slipping, encourages her to behave. However, the fear may cause a student to work simply to get by rather than operate at her full potential. For example, a student may behave only to avoid punishment, without listening to the lesson.

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