Recent theories suggest that intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation are not two opposing constructs, but rather two ends
of a motivation continuum (Alderman, 2000). The intrinsic / extrinsic
motivation continuum represents the extent to which actions are
controlled by reward and the extent to which actions are self-determined
(Alderman, 2000). A person can engage in activities to simultaneously
fulfill both intrinsic and extrinsic goals. For example, when someone
chooses a career that is also intrinsically rewarding, working can
produce both intrinsic rewards (i.e. interest and enjoyment) and
extrinsic rewards (i.e., salary and prestige). As educators, we
must find a way to make school both intrinsically and extrinsically
rewarding for our students.
If a student is not intrinsically motivated to do well, using extrinsic
motivators such as rewards or punishments can sometimes prod the student into
action. However, using rewards and punishments effectively is an art.
Sometimes using extrinsic motivators can backfire. As a general rule,
positively reinforcing good behavior or high achievement is far more effective
than punishing bad behavior or low achievement. However, even rewards
need to be used carefully, since even rewards can have an adverse impact on
subsequent motivation. In Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn argues
that rewarding students for activities that are intrinsically motivating can
decrease their motivation to engage in those activities in the future.
While we disagree with Kohn's conclusion that rewards are ineffective and controlling,
we would suggest that rewards are more effective if you follow a few general
Strategies for rewarding students: (From Brophy, 1998)
- Offer rewards as incentives
for meeting performance standards on low level tasks or
skills that require a great deal of practice or drill and repetition
rather than as primary incentives to do things that you hope will
be intrinsically motivating for the student (such as reading,
interest based research projects, participating in volunteer projects,
- Rewards can act as motivators only for those students who believe that
they have a chance to earn the rewards if they put forth reasonable
effort. For example, if the teacher offers a reward for the neatest
paper, the sloppiest child in the class is unlikely to try to win the award.
- Rewards are only effective when students value the reward. For example,
if students don't care about grades, then using grades as a reward for good
performance does not serve as an extrinsic motivator for the child.
- Rewards are most effective when they are delivered in ways that provide
students with informative feedback about their performance. Explain
the importance of learning, performance, and improvement, and use the incentives
as markers for mastering key concepts or improving skills, rather than as
the entire point of doing the work.
Decreases in performance and intrinsic motivation may
- Rewards are presented in ways that call a great deal of attention to them
in front of the rest of the students. This can be very embarrassing
for the student who receives the award.
- Rewards are given for mere participation in an activity rather than contingent
on achieving specific goals. Rewarding participation can result in subpar
- Rewards are artificially tied to the behaviors as control devices rather
than being natural outcomes of the behaviors. Ideally, if you can design
a system where a behavior is naturally reinfocing, you will have the best
long-term outcomes. However, sometimes it may be necessary to offer
"carrots" for particular achievements. This is effective in the short
run. However, when you stop offering the carrot, you are likely to stop
seeing the desired behavior. Therefore, rewards can be a great "quick
fix", but they are rarely a long-term solution.
Final Note: Remember, what may seem like it would be motivational
to one person, can actually be antimotivational for someone else. Consider
the following scenario taken from the motivation and motivational tools website,
"In Mrs. George's seventh grade classroom, Cole always sat at the back of
the room, trying to be as invisible as possible. He'd always been quite shy
and withdrawn, but also lonely with feelings of isolation. As he began his adolescent
growth spurt, Cole's height and strength progressed to the point where he was
able to do well in soccer. And his circle of friends grew. He finally started
to feel like “one of the guys.”
Then one fateful day, Mrs. George, who had been waiting for opportunities
to help Cole feel successful and more confident in his own abilities, asked
him a direct question in class. When Cole responded correctly, she praised him
quite emphatically. Cole was mortified. He blushed and ducked his head and felt
more embarrassed than he had in months. He thought that he'd been made to look
like the teacher's pet and would be alienated by his newfound friends. He vowed
never to answer a question correctly out loud after that.
So in effect, what Mrs. George had intended as positive reinforcement turned
out to be serious disincentive for the behavior she'd been hoping to cultivate."