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Myth: Rewards Promote Learning

Fact: While rewards are used constantly as a means of motivating children to improve grades, (and when these rewards don�t succeed, more rewards are offered)
  1. Children do not need rewards to be motivated to learn. Eager to make sense out of their environment, they are naturally inclined towards learning.
  2. Rewards are less effective than intrinsic motivation for promoting effective learning. A study investigating factors that helped 3rd and 4th graders remember what they had been reading found how interested the students were in the passage was thirty times more important than how "readable" the passage was. Doing the homework, studying, getting good grades, pleasing the adults - and hating every minute of it - is a profile that fits millions of children. These are reluctant, "other directed" learners. If we want to prepare people not just to "earn a living," but to live a life - a creative, humane, and sensitive life, then attitudes towards learning are at least as important as performance, and we should be aiming to create environments which support the natural inclination of the child to learn.
    Even if what matters to us most is how well children learn, focusing on intrinsic motivation is far more effective than using rewards. That means we need to be concerned with the fact that this critical ingredient begins evaporating after a few years of schooling.
  3. Rewards for learning undermine intrinsic motivation. Focusing on performance rather than learning undermines interest in learning, the desire to be challenged, and ultimately, achievement. The evidence strongly suggests tighter standards, additional testing, tougher grades, and more incentives do more harm than good. Controlling environments, for example, telling people what they have to learn, how they have to learn it and what will happen to them if they don�t (or what they will get if they do), contribute to feelings of anxiety and helplessness - hence lower-quality performance. Given a stimulating environment that they perceive as offering vivid and valued options, and in which they are encouraged to think about what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for learning.

Getting Rid of Grades

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