Being paid to learn?

Today, I let my students know which group won the iHistory fieldwork competition. They were really keen to know. Interestingly, the two groups with boys got the top two spots. One of these groups I expected to perform highly, but the other not so highly. Perhaps the fact that it was a competition motivated the boys more than the girls.

Anyway, I’m giving prizes to the first 2 groups. It’s a certain amount of money – they tell me what they want to buy with the money and I get it for them. I don’t know why it hadn’t struck before, but I realised how weird this was. It is as if I am paying them to learn – or at the very least giving material incentives to participate in learning activities. My question is – is there a problem with that?

When I was 14, I entered an essay competition on smoke detectors (of all things) and came 3rd, netting $200. That seems a legitimate reward, as it was outside of the school curriculum. But giving students prizes for their work in this iHistory project somehow seems…well, wrong! Teachers often give prizes (chocolate, vouchers etc) to students for hard work and excellence, and there is no suggestion that this is inappropriate. Why then do I feel that I have done something inappropriate? Maybe it’s because I’ve named a cash amount, which they are able to spend on whatever they like.

I suppose it is a short step from here to giving students financial rewards for meeting high academic standards, as some parents do. I’ve always been uncomfortable with such a practice, because I believe academic achievement brings its own rewards, and that it is not a competition against others, but against the limits of your own mental capabilities.

I think I was doomed to giving material prizes in the iHistory project as soon as I made the fieldwork a ‘competition’ rather than simply an ‘assessment task’. A competition with no prize is a misnomer. On reflection, I think I did need to broaden the reasons for being awarded a prize. “Getting the most answers right” was my criteria for a prize, but there were many more skills involved, such as teamwork and logistical planning. Perhaps these deserved prizes, despite being more difficult to judge.


About Dave Fagg

I'm a dad, husband, and resident of a regional town in Bendigo. I earn a crust through freelance writing, and youth work. I am also studying sociology. When I'm not working I love reading on the couch, playing soccer with my son, and musing.
This entry was posted in History Teaching, iHistory Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Being paid to learn?

  1. susie q says:

    Dvo, could i have plugged irivers into speaker in car to solve the girls lack of sharing? Then we could hv listened as driving to each venue? Who won ? Monetary rewards should not pose such a dilemma bc if that’s what engages & drives boys in this instance. pls don’t worry over it

  2. davefagg says:

    Susie Q, there must be some way of connecting the iRiver to the car speakers – some people connect a portable CD player to their car stereo system so there must be a way…great idea, particularly if you have a more social group.

    Robert, Andrew and Daniel won…they were pretty stoked!

  3. Tom Morgan says:

    Hi Dave,
    Just use a little trasnsmitter that plugs with a single jack into the speaker ( headphone) output. Then the the transmitter can send signal to FM stereo in car or any other similar unit. I have had music and speech galore on my Bose and car stereos all at the same time. Cost approx $AUD60-70.00 Same thing can be done for tape recorders normal tape and digital, by using transmitter. Rely on batteries which get to go flat quickly.However, the better compromise is the attachement for the Ipod which uses the iPod battery. Same thing for th eipod transmitter. Griffin Tech for the ipod and Belkin products for the alternative..
    BTW the attachment for the ipod for the microphone works very well. I have given my transmitter to my 14 year old nephew who “transmits” his favourite music to his sound system. Works well with the laptop desktop as well.


    Tom Morgan


    **Like your site and what you are doing. Well done.**

  4. davefagg says:

    Thanks Tom, appreciate the tip…sounds very convenient. Can I ask how you came across this site?

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