Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rewards - CPS , SDT

I have discussed the question in my ABA vs CPS blog

whether it is good practice to combine the use of rewards or token economy systems with CPS. Dr Greene does not recommend this.

There are many reasons why parents, teachers or therapists are unwilling to give up on rewards but are willing to give CPS a try alongside existing practices such as PBIS. Also kids have grown so accustomed to get rewards for doing what they have been asked to do , that they don't take to the idea of giving up on the rewards.

The alternative to rewards is to make learning and pro-social behavior intrinsically valuable, an engaging curriculum which is stimulating and interesting, driven by student curiosity and interest , allowing students to generate choices , all this taking place in the context of a community of learning. Learning can also have an association with fun.

Rewards are a Plan A strategy, not collaborating with the kid. The kid has no skill deficit but the added motivation might get the job done. This may work well in the short-term , and sometimes even if there is a slight skill deficit , rewards can ' make a kid look good', but won't solve a problem durably.

If we decide to use rewards I recommend the following.

1 Bring the kids into the process and let them decide together with you how rewards are going to be used. When rewards are self determined , the kid will not see them as controlling but see the reward as some extrinsic motivation to help him towards a goal. A kid who has difficulty in practicing piano regularly can decide to use a sticker chart and then reward himself when he achieves his goal. This helps kids reflect on more real reasons for doing things or behaving in a caring way than just to get the reward. Some kids would prefer no rewards as it may cause them anxiety or stress. We need to try and see things from a kid's point of view- whether they want or don't want a reward. When they do want a reward, we can give it and over time help them reflect on the real reasons they would like to do things.

2 Don't punish or have the kid loose credits or points for inappropriate behavior . Deal with the problem using CPS , collaborative problem solving. Behaviorists have been moving away from punishments or loosing credits , points etc – ' honey catches more flies than vinegar '.

3 Real learning takes place when kids are feeling happy, engaged, related to the teacher and kids and this usually is after they have received the reward. The learning that takes place before the reward is given has a limited effect , because it is due to ' extortion ' and the kid is not expressing his ' autonomy' and is not connected to his inner core. The reward may give an activity or learning an association with joy and happiness. This sense of joy takes place only after the reward has been given. We have to capitalize on the kid's good feeling and sense of well being and give rewards as soon as possible. This recommendation is in sharp contrast with the usual approach which sees prizes as incentives and therefore, an attempt is made to ' squeeze out ' as much performance as possible out of students before giving prizes ( to get the most bang for the buck , so as to speak ). So rewards must be very , very , very easy to get , there should be plenty of them while learning takes place , so the reward is seen more as part of the fun , part of the activity , than an incentive. The rewards of course must non-salient , cheap , mainly expressions of attention , feedback etc.

In my community prayer house kids have the opportunity to lead the service in song. They now – my recommendation- get the candy before they perform, so the candy should contribute to their singing out of joy and not singing for the candy ( despite it being a non-salient reward).

4 Everybody agrees that giving rewards is not the optimal way to operate and that we should be promoting intrinsic motivation. We need to find ways and opportunities to give up on rewards and try to give learning an association of fun. We also need to find ways to make learning and behaving intrinsically rewarding.

We can have group goals. So the group will get the sticker and the number of stickers will reflect on how the group is doing in achieving its goals and the kid feels good about contributing to the group.

Kids can decide to donate their rewards to a good cause or children who are less fortunate than them.



  1. Great article Allan! However, I'm not sure that trying to achieve intrinsic motivation for ALL desirable behaviours is a realistic goal. Children find it easier to be intrinsically motivated, but I don't think it's possible to be intrinsically motivated to do everything we do as adults.

    Also, you seem to talk about rewards as if they were always tangible (candy, money etc.). There are other kinds of rewards, such as praise, that have different effects on motivation, and are worth investigating.

  2. I think that rewards are to some extant natural in life. If you don't dress appropriately for a job interview you are not likely to get the job-so while the style of dress might not be intrinsically rewarding to you you do so to get the job of getting the reward. You also might find the job you get intrinsically rewarding or you may find that the reward is simply getting the paycheck.

  3. Okapi- Yes- rewards are part of the natural consequences of what we do or the outcomes of our goals and plans. The problem is when we use rewards to control or manipulate people or what matters in life is what you get , achievement and outcomes and not the process.

    Nicolas - Praise is problematic when the message is one of control - you have done well what I want from you. Praise which helps kids to reflect on the impact they make and focus on their feelings of pride and not doing things just to please others is positive for a kid - it is feedback and encouragement