Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Pay for Grades?

Should kids get paid for good grades? As a parent, I did not offer any incentive for good grades, other than a trip out for ice cream on report card day. It was part of an overall philosophy about kids learning to be responsible without a dangling carrot. Along the same line, I never paid for regular chores, either. Doing well in school and pushing back your fair share of the dirt was just a basic expectation. This seemed to work, and I patted myself on the parental back.

Then along came some life experiences where I realized that my kids were a certain personality type that worked well with this kind of parenting. They had internal motivation to excel. I never had to remind them to do their homework, let alone nag, or come to the point where I considered offering incentives. Enter the life experience. What to do with students who lack the internal motivation? What to do with students who can't be encouraged or cajoled into doing their homework? What to do with students who didn't even care if they graduated from high school?

I started to read and study about motivation and incentives. The research is all over the place, and sometimes contradictory. Consider the different studies over the years cited by the good folks at Freakonomics. One study showed a program administered by a school offering cash and incentives for improved grades at the end of each term was marginally successful, at best. With only external motivations, and lacking intristic motivation, the incentives mostly failed. Another study showed that immediate gratification improved test scores. Dangle a $20.00 bill for a good test score, and scores improve. Better yet, tell the students they have $20.00, which will be taken away if they don't score well, and the improvement is even better.

The question remains, then, whether these immediate incentives pay off in the long run, or whether they damage the internal motivation. Many studies I've read, not related to grades, show that generally, when people think they are doing something to help someone else they perform better and complete the task more often than if they are receiving a cash reward.  I believe this, and I tend to think cash motivation for grades do more harm than good, for most kids, including the risk of creating a feeling of entitlement. I have learned, however, that one philosophy does not fit all. For students who lack the internal motivation, it might serve them best to offer the carrots to make some progress.

This is an interesting discussion to have with your students. I'm always curious to know what other parents do, and to compare and contrast how my students are motivated. When I've used this topic in my classes, I'm always surprised how much self-knowledge even younger students have about what makes them successful (or not).  I'm curious to know what you think, too. Do you reward your own kids for good grades? How about the students in your classroom? What works?

I've put together a packet with a pro and con article on this topic at the fifth through seventh grade reading level (Lexile leveled) if you think this would be of interest to your students.  It has plenty of options for classwork, group work, and writing assignments.

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