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How to reward students to get results

I’ve been doing some research lately on how to make work more fun and rewarding. I realize that teachers and trainers think a great deal about incentives. But these are also great lessons for any work environment! The Marshall Memo synthesized this Education Week article by Sarah Sparks who reported interesting findings on how rewards really work!

“Sarah Sparks who reported some surprising findings on classroom incentives contained in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper and research by the Center on Education Policy:

  • Students did better when they received a reward (a trophy or cash) before taking a test. “People value something more when they have it already and they are at risk of losing it than when they don’t have it yet and it’s something to gain,” explains Sally Sadoff, a University of California/San Diego professor. “The trophy is something they can hold in their hands; it made it more salient.”
  • None of the incentives worked if students knew they wouldn’t get the reward for a month. “All motivating power of the incentives vanishes when rewards are handed out with a delay,” the researchers concluded. This might explain why Harvard professor Roland Fryer’s 2011 experiment with offering students cash for improved standardized test scores had no impact on achievement – but paying students to read books and take quizzes did.
  • It’s more effective to reward actions rather than results. “It’s really important to reward inputs, not outputs,” said Alexandra Usher of the Center on Education Policy. “It’s important to reward behavior that kids can control, rather than just telling them to get better grades.”

“Study Suggests Timing Is Key in Rewarding Students” by Sarah Sparks in Education Week, Aug. 8, 2012 (Vol. 31, #37, p. 18), http://www.edweek.org


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