Understanding The Negative Effects of Reward Systems in Classrooms

One of the most popular tools for motivating students in classrooms is using a reward system. Unfortunately, these systems have several negative effects, such as offering short-term results, creating resentment, and stifling creativity. But wait, there is more! Reward systems may make learners lose interest in learning, cause unhealthy competition, and even cause emotional damage.

However, most of these negative effects are usually experienced when the reward systems are not structured and implemented correctly. So then, how do you create effective reward systems and minimize their negative impacts?

In this guide, we will discuss everything there is to know about reward systems, including their negative and positive impacts. The article will also cover alternative ways to motivate learners without using reward systems. So, read on.

Reward Systems in Classrooms
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What are Reward Systems in Classrooms and Examples?

Reward systems are strategies teachers use to improve learners’ academic achievements and enforce positive behavior in classrooms. It involves rewarding a student with something every time they achieve a targeted behavior.

Generally, these reward systems can be for individual learners, groups, or the entire class. In addition, there are two primary categories of reward systems, including tangible and intangible. Examples of these tangible reward systems include:

  • Certificate or an award
  • Stickers or stars
  • Giving toys or books
  • Trophies and badges
  • Prizes
  • Kind note home or personalized pencil
  • Sweet treats

Intangible reward systems are things that the students can experience. Simply, they are not physical items. They include:

  • Sitting with the teacher at lunch
  • Drawing on the chalkboard
  • Doing half of an assignment
  • Choosing a game at recess
  • Being the teacher’s helper for the day
  • Feeding the class pet for the week.

Typically, these reward systems have several positive effects when structured and implemented correctly. These include:

  1. Makes learning more fun and engaging for learners
  2. Offers tangible incentives for students to work hard
  3. Encourages positive behavior
  4. Promotes feelings of self-confidence, pride, and happiness
  5. Increases engagement and participation in classroom activities
  6. Encourages learners to complete and submit homework on time.

Read: How to Deal with Students Sleeping in Class?

Negative Effects of Reward Systems in Classrooms

Reward systems in classrooms may help motivate and even incentivize students. However, when structured incorrectly, these rewards may have negative effects on some students. The negative effects include:

1. Loss of Interest in Learning

When learners are constantly rewarded for their excellent academic performance, they may start focusing primarily on external rewards. Simply, they may develop reward addiction, which can hinder their development of intrinsic motivation.

And as a result, the learners can lose their genuine interest in learning. Simply, students may switch their attention from what knowledge they need to learn to the tangible reward they are supposed to receive.

Typically, this happens when they are exposed to the rewards repetitively. As such, they tend to perceive learning only as a task to be completed to earn a reward.

2. Short-term Effectiveness

Although the rewards may initially motivate the learners, their effects may decline over time. Simply, the learners may become less responsive to the reward systems. This is unless the teachers increase the value of the rewards.

3. Stifles Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills

Depending on the reward system, the learners may not feel motivated to think outside the box. This is because the students are more focused on meeting the criteria for earning rewards.

Consequently, this usually hinders their ability to explore new possibilities, think creatively, or solve problems.

4. Emotional Damage

Learners may feel stressed or anxious about meeting expectations and earning rewards. In addition, the fear of not getting the rewards can lead to negative emotional experiences.

Also, students who consistently fail to earn rewards may suffer from low self-esteem when they compare themselves to their peers. This could even lead to feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.

5. Controlling and Manipulative

Some learners may feel as if they are being controlled or manipulated through the reward systems. As a result, they can learn to become manipulative with their peers.

6. Favoritism and Resentment

When some students are always getting rewards, their teachers are likely to view them more positively. This may make learners that struggle to achieve the rewards feel excluded or discouraged. As such, these learners may become demotivated to maintain positive behavior or work hard.

Even worse, the students that don’t get rewards may build long-term resentment toward learners that receive them frequently. Conversely, learners that gain points may look down on their less successful peers.

7. Unhealthy Competition

Where there are individual reward systems and no group or class-wide rewards, this may foster an unhealthy competitive environment. This is because the learners will focus solely on outperforming their peers just to get rewards. Consequently, this may create hostility and undermine collaboration.

Read: How to Discipline Preschoolers in the Classroom

How To Minimize the Negative Effects of Reward Systems in Classrooms

Teachers may incorporate various strategies to help minimize the potential negative impacts of classroom reward systems. These strategies include:

Intrinsic Motivation
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Emphasis on Intrinsic Motivation

Most reward systems in classrooms focus on extrinsic motivation and hence the many negative effects. Therefore, teachers should also foster intrinsic motivation, allowing the learners to find joy in learning and developing their skills.

Offer Meaningful Feedback

Alongside the rewards, teachers should provide constructive feedback that focuses on learners’ growth, efforts, and progress. This way, the students can understand the intrinsic value of their achievements.

Issue Rewards in Moderation

To prevent students from getting addicted to the rewards, tutors should use them in moderation. This may help ensure the learners engage in learning for their own sake.

Regularly Adjusting the Reward Systems

The tutors should continuously evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the reward system. To do this, the tutors must monitor how the learners are responding to the rewards.

If the rewards don’t help in achieving the desired behavior, the teachers should make the necessary adjustments. And for the best results, they can involve the students in the entire process.

Tailor Made

Educators should tailor the reward systems to the individual student’s needs and interests. This is to help prevent any favoritism.

The best way to do this is giving the learners the opportunity to develop the reward system. They can brainstorm and vote on the rewards that complement their needs, based on their interests, strengths, and weaknesses.

Precautions and Development: How To Build Effective Classroom Reward Systems?

We need to avoid creating a negative impact on the reward system. That is why you have to take the measure before implementing the reward system in your classroom.

We have mentioned the method of how to build an effective reward system that won’t create any hazards while implementing. This is a proven way you can implement it.

Effective Classroom Reward Systems
Image Source: Freepik

Also, based on your class environment, you may bring some further modifications. This is entirely based on your analysis and only if required.

Step 1: Describe Desired Behavior and Goals

Clearly define the specific behaviors and targets you want to encourage in the classrooms. Make sure to pick a goal that you know the pupils can achieve. Then, clearly explain it to the learners.

Step 2: Choose the Reward Systems

Choose meaningful, relevant, and age-appropriate reward systems for individuals, groups, and the entire class. But the most important thing is involving the learners in choosing the rewards. Also, consider mixing extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

Step 3: Communicate Expectations

Ensure the learners understand the purpose of the reward systems and how it’s connected to their learning. Also, explain the behaviors and achievements that will be rewarded.

Step 4: Track Progress

Create a system to track each learner’s progress and achievements. Also, update their progress regularly to help them stay motivated.

Step 5: Evaluate the Reward’s Effectiveness

Evaluate the effectiveness of the reward systems continuously. You can do this by seeking feedback from the parents and the learners. Then, make adjustments to ensure the system continues to be effective.

Tips To Motivate Learners in Classrooms Without Using Reward Systems

It is possible to motivate learners without relying heavily on classroom reward systems. This can be achieved through the following strategies:

  • Encouraging goal setting and offering guidance on how to achieve them.
  • Introducing short and long-term deadlines to complete a task.
  • Setting some challenges for the students to overcome.
  • Incorporating learners’ interests, strengths, and talents into the learning process.
  • Fostering critical thinking and creativity.
  • Offering timely and constructive feedback that focuses on students’ progress.
  • Cultivating an inclusive and supportive classroom culture.
  • Celebration of individual and collective classroom achievements.


Reward systems in classrooms offer several advantages, especially when designed correctly. For instance, they make learning fun, inspire positive behavior, and promote self-confidence. However, when structured wrongly, these reward systems have many negative impacts on learners.

For example, the systems may make students lose genuine interest in learning and cause emotional damage. The good news? There exist ways to minimize these negative effects and motivate students without using reward systems. That said, tutors must learn how to build effective reward systems in classrooms.

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