They also encourage external motivation (“if theres no prize, there is no reason for me to try”).
As a teacher, it becomes increasingly more difficult to teach children who expect rewards, because the best reward for them should be “I learned something new!”
Rewards also set children up for failure in later life and they become easily manipulated with rewards and whack incentives as adults (“we’ll be having a meeting tonight from 6-9pm. Lunch boxes will be provided. No, of course you don’t get paid overtime, but we’ll give you a very expensive lunch box from this very nice restaurant” or “we provide $5000 red envelopes and give you two weeks off for LNY, theres nothing unreasonable about expecting you to come in on a Saturday once a month”). They become unable to understand what anything is actually worth, especially their time and work.
Rewards also never have a logical reason for why you get them. Think of store and credit card points. Either you were already buying the thing when you got the points, or you are buying more than you need in order to get/use them. Its the store/credit card company that wins, not the consumer (unless you’re one of those people who carefully researches how to get the very last drop of every rewards program, which is few people).
When you use any rewards in the classroom, you are simply providing candy/bubble tea/stickers/whatever to the students who already know the stuff from outside of class. When they work in teams, it means the “good students” earn all the points and the “bad students” end up either getting screamed at for being “stupid” or are provided with embarrassingly easy questions in order to avoid the embarrassment of being wrong and losing points.
I used to try rewards and prizes, but then I started reading up on the entire theory. Looking back on every incentive and reward system I ever tried, 100% of them were crap. I rewarded the learners who were already going to do well and the ones who weren’t going to do well were not incentivized by me dangling a prize in front of their face. I think about the rewards systems various teachers had for our classes in elementary school or “if the class brings x number of non-perishable food items, you’ll get a pizza party” sorts of incentives, and they never worked. At the end, the two people in the class of 26 who read one novel a day read all the books for the whole class. The rich kid asked their dad to have an entire semi-truck full of canned goods brought to the school so there wouldn’t be any concerns about meeting the target, etc. Now, you could have rules about limiting how many canned goods or books are allowed per person, but now what do you do with the child who is a slow reader or the student whose family would be collecting canned goods from the pantry, not making the donations? Everything about it inherently doesn’t work.
Nowadays, I am careful to avoid saying even “good job!” to anyone. Instead, I say “you did it!” or “wow, you spent a lot of time on that!”. When children say things like “my mom said she’s proud of me”, I push them to reflect on what they did and whether they are proud of themself and also why they would be proud of themselves. As Dr. Maria Montessori found, through trying incentive systems at first, external rewards of all kinds actually rob children of the joy that comes simply by doing something through their own hard work. As an adult, you are taking the actual reward, which is being able to do it, and making it about you, the adult, and how the child should please the adult. This is why Taiwanese children are so unbelievably hard to motivate. EVERYTHING they do from the moment they are born is about getting the “你好棒棒!” from everyone around them. They are robbed of the experience of doing anything for themselves, so the only way they will do anything is if you offer them rewards. This is problematic for so many reasons, but you can be the teacher who breaks that vicious cycle.
If you come to my classroom, I have children doing insanely huge research projects and figuring out any amount of higher level math and geometry, dragging their friends in to figure out even more, all on their own. We’re talking 6-12 year olds who are understanding, through hands-on experience, how to do math I wasn’t taught until high school. No one needs a gold star for figuring out the cube root of a huge number or determining the volume of a bathroom stall in five different units of measure. They are introduced to the concept and they run with it because they are motivated by their own inner drive, not the promise of a collection of gold coins.
We can say “well everyone else in Taiwan is only motivated by external rewards, so I will have to use them too” but that makes you part of the problem. Obviously coming into a classroom and saying “no rewards for you! Research says you shouldn’t have them!” is not going to work either. But if the content is engaging, like you review material through TPRS (look up “story asking”), they will be motivated by the interesting content of the story you built together and not the promise of bubble tea.