Incentives in life

Lyon Keating:

In response to the article “Rewards for Students Under a Microscope” I couldn’t help but feel compelled to write in favor of incentive based learning in schools.  I am a teacher in the San Francisco and South San Francisco Unified School Districts and very often wonder why anyone would not include incentives among their teaching strategies.  Life is all about incentives.  Everything we do is motivated by incentives whether it is fiscal, spiritual, materialistic, emotional, mental, a desire to connect with your fellow neighbor, survival and love based, etc.  If most, if not everything we do, is motivated by our desire to obtain something in our lives then why should the schools in our country not cater to this force that has the ability to instill a tremendous amount of drive in people?  And getting good grades isn’t incentive enough anymore for most people.  Kids are smarter and have shorter attention spans than past generations and need to feel something that relates to their lives.

The article states that although, “rewards may work in the short term they can have damaging effects in the long term…once incentives stopped coming, students showed less interest in the task at hand than those who received no reward.”  I would gather that most people in their lives end up doing jobs that they do not feel particularly connected to and have very little motivation for.  They find their incentives in hobbies, sports, family, religion, love, whatever, and have no interest in their job except for the fact that they get paid to do it.  A much smaller percent of the population, I would argue a very small percentage like less than five percent, find meaning in their jobs, their duties at work, and feel compelled that they can create positive change and might not need that money or focus outside work incentive to drive them.  However, since most people do not fall under that category and end up being driven by monetary incentives then why would we expect most of the student population to be any different?  Of course when students go from receiving meaningful incentives to not receiving them they will have less desire to go to school and participate.  That is what drove them to perform.  If less pay or no pay was given to adults for doing their jobs would we expect them to keep working?  As much as we want to believe that the idea of receiving an education; the meaning, the enlightenment, and positive brain development that can come from it are enough to motivate students we will vastly end up disappointed.

People have interests and students are people too. They continually show teachers everyday what they are interested in as they are easily distracted by cell phones, ipods, technology, games, puzzles, drawings, books, comics, movies, music, and food to name a few examples.  If the prize is high enough and a child’s interest are truly tapped into, then most, if not all, will give in to what you want them to do in order to gain the prize that fulfills their interest.

San Francisco has harsh rules against the use of technology in the classroom.  They have web-sites like youtube and facebook restricted and students face severe punishment for those that bring ipods, cell phones, and hand held video game players to school.  These rules are in place for obvious, ideal reasons as you do not want kids to play with their toys over doing schoolwork.  However, it baffles me that schools, teachers, and administrators do not have the insight to see how these toys can benefit the implementation of education.  The incentives to drive these kids are starring the teachers right in the face.  Kids can’t wait to use their little technological devices, which is really no different than most adults either.  I largely ignore the schools rules in regards to using these devices.  The reason is because I have found that if students are driven by the incentive to use their devices after they complete their work they are incredibly more likely to complete their work.  If they bring out their toys before the desired time then consistent consequences need to be imposed, and time needs to be given for kids to play with their devices.  Giving them one minute at the end of class is not really a motivation.

Consequences go hand in hand with an incentive based rewards program.  An appropriate analogy would be a parent saying to a child “you don’t get desert unless you eat your broccoli.”  In this sense everyone wins.  The teacher uses the students’ toys against them to get them to do their work and then in the end the students can play with their toys.  The students feel that the teacher is looking out for their interests by allowing them to do what they want and the teacher feels that the student values their interests because they complete the work.  A healthy compromise of incentives and interests has just taken place and each party has been treated fairly equally in regards to getting what they want.

The article tended to focus more on cash-based programs and although I feel all types of incentives should be explored based on the student’s interest, cash can obviously work.  However, it should be the responsibility of the teacher and administrators to make sure that the same kids are not winning the cash over and over again.  This would likely happen if only the best test scores were rewarded that focused on one kind of student.  Other categories such as most improved, best attitude, best idea or question submitted, most homework turned in, best notes, most creative idea, whatever can be used so that the most amount of students can be taken into consideration for receiving awards.

This conversation can greatly be discussed further.  These are but a few examples of how our educational system is lacking in regards to catering to the needs of humans to be driven by incentives.  Look at your own life.  For everything you do or have done, what motivated you to do it?  There is always an answer/incentive that leads someone to do a particular action; a need that could not be ignored, and when things that surrounded you do not cater to that need then you disassociate from what is being asked of you and look towards what can quench that yearning.  If we delve into what interests kids and are able to apply it towards getting an education then we all would benefit.  The answer has to lie somewhere in incentive based learning and living, as it really relates to everything else that happens in our lives.  It is far beyond time that our educational system stopped fighting the natural urges of people and aligned itself with the reality of what really motivates most people to achieve, perform, and work hard in their lives.

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