Research shows that rewards can actually be counterproductive if used incorrectly, and may lead to less learning and even more cheating, in some instances.
"We think teachers and parents should use rewards less often, use them more carefully and emphasize learning over rewards," said Lynley Hicks Anderman, associate professor of educational policy and leadership at Ohio State University.
Lynley and her husband Eric Anderman, a professor of educational policy and leadership at Ohio State, are authors of the book Classroom Motivation (Pearson, 2009), which provides practical, research-based advice on how teachers can motivate students.
The book focuses on many commonly held beliefs of teachers and parents regarding how to "motivate" students that simply are not supported by research.
"Motivation is complicated," Eric Anderman said.
"A lot of teachers and a lot of administrators don't really understand how and why students are motivated, even though they know it is important," the expert added.
Many teachers and parents assume that motivation rests solely within the students themselves, and students need to be self-motivated to succeed. But research shows that teachers have a lot of control over students' motivation, even if they don't realize it, he said.
"A lot of teachers believe that anything they do to motivate students is separate from everything else they do in the classroom," Lynley Anderman said.
"Whether it is some kind of reward, or a game or fun activity, they see it as an add-on to the regular instruction. Instead, students' motivation is influenced by all aspects of the design and delivery of instruction," the expert added.
Teachers need to learn how to structure classes, evaluate students and choose classroom activities in such a way that they motivate students.
The book focuses on how teachers can use research-based practices to implement small changes that can have huge motivational benefits for students.