In our new Chronicle update (should be available by mid-January), one newly implemented feature is the ability to incorporate a point system in an effort to better manage groups (please note student names and photos are blurred for anonymity).  These groups may be book discussion groups, cooperative groups in science, debate teams, etc.  The individual teacher can use his or her discretion about how to utilize the point system, but regardless of how he or she decides to do so, points can be awarded for ideal behaviors and deducted for those behaviors we as teachers wish to discourage.  For example, for book discussion groups, a teacher may want to deduct a point (by tapping on the down arrow) for children in the group not bringing all necessary materials to the discussion.  Although this may have been discussed as a non-negotiable when originally setting up groups and modeling book discussions, once a point is deducted, the students now know that the teacher is serious about meeting these non-negotiable learning behaviors and that there are consequences for not carrying them out.

Conversely, a teacher may be trying to encourage students to refer back to the text and support their thoughts with evidence.  The teacher may notice a group doing exactly this and announce that the group just earned a point (by tapping on the up arrow).  The class now knows that this is a type of behavior that can possibly earn them points.  Over time, there will be a greater frequency of behaviors that maximize learning and fewer behaviors that impede learning.

But shouldn’t students just do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing?  Aren’t we discouraging intrinsic motivation if we implement a point system?

Good questions.  In my graduate studies at Walden University, I took a class on behavior management.  The professor was explaining how she was a strong advocate for intrinsic motivation.  So strong in fact that one semester she told her students that they would grade themselves at the end of the class based on the grade they felt they genuinely earned.  Surely adults who could fully appreciate and understand the notion of intrinsic motivation would corroborate her strong stance on the subject.  So what happened?  The professor explained how she received the absolute worst quality of work ever from this semester’s class!  She was then forced to reconsider her viewpoint, and now sees the importance of the balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

I’ve personally thought about this subject more and more over time.  Perhaps it comes from my discussions with my father-in-law who immerses himself in anything to do with economics.  As a result, I’ve increasingly read (and listened to podcasts) that in some way touch upon this topic.  Then, having had three knee surgeries in the past two years, I’ve noticed the extrinsic systems implemented in hospitals.  For example, gift cards are given based on the number of stars a nurse earns.   How different is this from some of the reward systems that teachers use in their classrooms?

Yes, in reinforcing classroom best practices, and in developing good citizens who will contribute to the bettering of this world, we do want to emphasize and foster intrinsic motivation; however, a healthy balance with extrinsic motivators, in my opinion, is important as well.