Journal of Contemporary Research in Education


With growing force, extrinsic motivators, such as stickers, certificates, gold stars, and monetary compensation, permeate the educational environment (Kohn, 1993). While innocuous on the surface, such incentive-laden practices represent a level of teacher control that has profound consequences for student motivation (Reeve, 2006). Although considerable field experiments have shown the effects of contingent rewards on subsequent intrinsic motivation for engaging in proscribed activities (Deci & Ryan, 1985), such studies do not shed light on the motivational realities of the classroom environment, complete with student discipline, standardized curricula, and accountability measures. One hundred five (105) elementary teachers of grades one to five within a single school district in the Southern United States responded to Likert-type items and open-ended questions, allowing them to articulate and justify their use of systems of rewards and sanctions in the classroom. Results indicated that the overwhelming majority of teachers (95%) had systems of rewards and consequences/sanctions, which they deemed effective and pedagogically appropriate. Teachers revealed highly developed token economies spanning both the students’ behavioral and academic outcomes. While this study is descriptive and exploratory in nature, it attempts to provide context for further research in an area of pressing concern that needs to be reclaimed.

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