If you give a student a Skittle…. Are Incentives Overrated?

If you give a student a Skittle is obviously a play on words from the popular book, If you give a Mouse a Cookie.  However, in this blog, it is the best way to explain negotiations in the classroom.  The Skittle, in this instance is symbolic for incentives.
Each summer, I think of new ways to negotiate with my students.  Is this right?  No! But, its a pivotal part of the teacher-student interaction in most cases.  A Skittle, gummi bear or candy corn is such a small thing and it can create so much drive and interest in students.  Coupons, candy or free time are all incentives that teachers use to keep kids invested in the learning process, but do we ever ask ourselves what happens if you give a student a Skittle?  Are incentives necessary or a pivotal part of the learning process?
I carry a box of skittles around on my cart, handing out candy for focused students, correct pronunciations of words, whole stories read, goals met and anything else that warrants a treat in the small group.  I am so predictable when it comes to these incentives that the students expect it daily and I am not all that sure that they are as excited about work without them. As I give my students these skittles, what am I teaching them about life?  A friend asked me that as she watched me purchase a 54 ounce bag one Sunday.  I tried to explain to her the background of the incentive and she laughed, laughed at the idea that I would consider giving them a tiny treat after small group.  I didnt like the reaction, but I questioned why it seemed so strange.  I love working in education, but incentives are nice and that just sweetens the pot.  Should we not expect that our students feel the same way?  They can love learning new things, but incentives sweeten their pot also!  Im not sure what the lasting effects of a skittle or two are on the learning process, but I am sure that incentives are a necessary part of the teacher student interaction.  Whether these incentives are candy, stickers, coupons, free time or time with the teacher, they are important.  I, for one dont think incentives are overrated, they are necessary!  

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