Should Teachers Use Prize Boxes?

Teachers often use awards selected by students from a prize box. Kids love the colorful writing supplies, inspiring bookmarks, eye-catching pencil accessories, and other prizes for students. These prizes can be given for a variety of reasons. To earn a prize, students may have to reach a learning goal or maintain classroom expectations. Using a prize box can be a great motivator. It can also aid in making the classroom feel like a positive, welcoming environment. With all the benefits the use of a prize box may bring, there are still reasons why you may want to use it infrequently.

The Positives

Many times, the prize box works as a motivational tool. When students see something in the prize box that they want, students may instantly decide to do whatever it takes to be rewarded with that item. This can be helpful for those students who are not necessarily motivated to earn good grades. If the prize is an item that matters most to the student, then he or she may display an unstoppable persistence in getting that prize. The prize becomes a tangible validation of the child's learning. This can help the child gain an interest in his or her learning, as well.

When students are interested in making a selection from the prize box, they can be more motivated to complete assigned tasks that can help them meet benchmarks in the curriculum. The prize box rewards the effort of the students. It validates the need for putting forth the hard work necessary when learning to master a new skill. Selecting an award from the prize box is a way for teachers and a student's peers to recognize a student for achieving personal growth.

The Negatives

The prize box works as an extrinsic motivator for students. Some believe that this may be detrimental to students' learning. When a reward is given for an achievement, that token may become the center of importance. Instead of wanting to learn for the sake of learning, students may want to just learn for the sake of earning a prize. It is a risk, especially if the activity is one that students need to master a new skill. Plus, there is the added risk that the prizes within the box will not appeal to students. If this is the case, their potential to be willing to learn may be affected. They may not express an interest to partake in the learning activity at all.

The last thing you want is for your class's prize box to be viewed as a tool for manipulation. Students must know that access to the prize box is not the goal of their learning. Instead, their motivation should come from within so that they work to be self-sustaining. No matter the content area (e.g., math, science, English, etc.), we want our students to learn these subjects because of their importance to us throughout life. We do not expect them to learn just so they can be treated to a gift from the prize box. The prizes should be secondary to what is really important: each child's education. Nothing in the classroom should distract from that. This, however, does not mean that a prize box cannot be used effectively within the classroom.

The Right Balance

Some teachers have found that using the prize box infrequently works best for their classrooms. First, when the prize box is used occasionally, students are not conditioned to think that all the learning that they do at school will be rewarded with a tangible prize. Previous experiences will have shown them that they were learning because the content in and of itself was important. Needless to say, students will not have the expectation that they will be rewarded the same way in the future. Access to the prize box can be one component of a larger lesson. This will show students that there is more to value than just the prize itself. Similarly, the students do not need to know that they will get something from the prize box beforehand. Instead, this can be an extra surprise once the learning activity has been completed. Using the prize box in this way will not affect the students' will to be motivated intrinsically.

Adding a prize box to your classroom can be a fun way to reward students for the hard work they are putting into their education. With careful teacher consideration, it does not have to overshadow the importance of knowing new skills. Prize boxes can benefit your students. Bring them out every so often to congratulate your class on a job well done.