As a fourth-grade teacher, I would like to add to the debate about rewards in the classroom [front page, Nov. 14].
I have seen how damaging rewards can be as incentives to learn, especially when used to modify the behavior of disruptive students. When we use prizes to motivate students who typically are badly behaved, the other students see a student who does not follow the rules being rewarded while they, who are behaving, receive nothing. Therefore, the incentive to behave well is removed.
Furthermore, disruptive students sometimes learn to manipulate the system, changing their behavior at the right moment in order to garner the rewards they have been promised. Remove the rewards, and the good behavior disappears.
I let my students know that I expect a certain standard of behavior. If they break classroom rules, the clear consequences are the loss of privileges in the classroom. They behave because I expect it, not because they stand to earn anything.
I distribute almost no prizes, yet I have a well-behaved class. In return, my students have a sense of personal integrity and a budding knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong. I have too much respect for them to buy them off with prizes.
Linda Perlstein's "The Sweet Rewards of Learning" discussed the use of prizes -- especially junk food -- to motivate students.
While academicians noted that this practice "kills the love of . . . learning," two major concerns were not mentioned: poor health and lack of parental permission.
The U.S. Department of Education says more children are overweight or obese than ever before. Experts warn that frequently rewarding kids with food can promote abnormal, unhealthy eating habits. Also, studies show that poor nutrition affects thinking skills.
Parents, not teachers, should decide which foods children are given, especially when it comes to junk food. Strict vegetarians, for example, would object to cheese pizza or candy containing gelatin.
No matter how hard it is to motivate students today, there is no excuse for teaching unhealthy lessons.