Stickers and Stars — How Effective are Rewards?

  • Published on February 5, 2021

stickers and stars - how effective are rewards

Don’t you love it when you find someone who not only shares your ideas but extends them in ways that challenge and make sense at the same time? I do.

I was recently introduced (in the virtual world) to educator Alfie Kohn. First, I listened to his book Punished by Rewards and am now listening to Unconditional Parenting. The bonus with both books is that Kohn narrates them, so the ideas come across exactly as he intended, and it sounds like he is presenting rather than reading. These books are great for both parents and teachers as well as others in any form of managerial role. I wish I’d had the opportunity of reading Kohn’s work before I became a teacher or a parent for the joy it would have given me in sharing and affirming ideas.

If you are a teacher or parent who questions the real value of offering children stars or stickers in the hope of motivating them or of grading the work they turn in, you will find much of interest in Kohn’s work.  You could begin by exploring his website or dive straight into his articles and books as I did.

Here is an interview he did on Oprah in 2013 about his book Punished by Rewards. It includes some interesting perspectives from teachers and parents with whom you may or may not agree.

And here are five Alfie Kohn quotes that inspire me, have me nodding in agreement or challenge my thinking.

“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.”

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

“In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening.  Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.”

“Whoever said there’s no such thing as a stupid question never looked carefully at a standardized test.”

“It’s not just that humiliating people, of any age, is a nasty and disrespectful way of treating them. It’s that humiliation, like other forms of punishment, is counterproductive. ‘Doing to’ strategies — as opposed to those that might be described as ‘working with’ — can never achieve any result beyond temporary compliance, and it does so at a disturbing cost.”

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of Kohn’s books and what you think of these ideas. Which of them do you most agree with? Which do you find most challenging?

New phonics resources

I have been working on some new resources for teaching the letter names and sounds, focusing on the initial sound in words. So far, I have made resources for s, a, t, p, i and n, which are often the first sounds that teachers teach.

phonics initial sounds

You can find them all in the phonics collection.

Updated calendars of days and events

Last year, the lists of days and events to celebrate in the classroom were very popular. I have been updating them for this year as the dates often change from year to year. So far I have updated:

A Year of days and events to celebrate in the classroom

A Year of Days and Events to Celebrate in the Classroom (an overview of the year)

January Days and Events to Celebrate in the Classroom 2021

January Days and Events to Celebrate in the Classroom

February Days and Events to Celebrate in the Classroom

February Days and Events to Celebrate in the Classroom

I will be updating the other months as the year progresses. These can all be found in the Classroom Management (free) collection.

readilearn teaching resources for the first three years of school

Remember to check out the complete readilearn collection of

over 450 teaching resources for the first three years of school
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.


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    Ha! “Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.” That’s great. It should be said of parents, too. (And I could really learn from that!) Looking forward to watching the video. Thanks for sharing this, Norah.

    I hope you enjoy the video, Sarah. I think there’s much for me to learn too. So many missed opportunities, unfortunately.

    I’m not sure if this reply will end up where I intend it… but Norah,
    dear Norah, what difference does it make whether or not I’m pleased to have sent you delving? You delved! I hope because you wanted to, for your own learning, curiosity, pleasure. Learn like nobody is watching and dance just because you want to.

    Of course, D. Learning is what I do. But I thought you may have been happy, as any teacher would be, to know you were a catalyst. 🙂

    Thanks, Jim. I’m pleased you started me on my Alfie Kohn journey, pushed a little further along by D. Avery. 🙂

    Great topic for discussion Norah. I personally don’t believe children should be rewarded for doing homework, but for learning responsibility like having chores to do at home do deserve an allowance. 🙂

    I’m pleased you’re enjoying the discussion, Debby, and thanks for adding to it. I think Kohn would disagree with giving payment for chores too but rather think that children should contribute to maintaining the household anyway. I don’t recall him mentioning anything about an allowance ‘just because’, but I think he’d probably rather that.

    This sounds very interesting, Norah. I never found stars or rewards motivated me as a learner. It was all about my personal gratification in the learning process. With my sons, Greg is exactly like me, he’ll take a reward but doesn’t need one. Michael cannot be bribed or shouted at or shamed. He has to be interested or he won’t do something.

    I think you have just verified what Kohn is saying, Robbie. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

    “If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.”
    There it is. That’s learning. As far as “punished by rewards” it comes down to encouraging intrinsically motivated learners as opposed to extrinsically motivated learners. Those will be more creative and resilient people.

    That’s right, D. I just hope you’re pleased you sent me delving into Kohn’s work when I mentioned something that Jim Border had written about. 🙂

    A wonderful introduction to Allie Kohn. I am now curious to learn more. Wow, “…make good decisions by making decisions…”. A great deal of wisdom and obviously experience and knowledge in the quotes you shared. I agree with you, Norah, I wish I had this information when I was a new Mother. Like Oprah says, “revolutionary.” As soon as I see his face in the interview, I know I have seen this interview. I have watched every single Oprah show. Lol

    Thank you for your lovely comment, Erica. I’m pleased you enjoyed meeting Alfie Kohn, though you’d obviously come across him before on Oprah. I have to say that I haven’t seen many Oprah shows. I don’t watch much daytime television, in fact, I don’t watch much television at all. 🙂

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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