As I plan the syllabus for my upcoming college course, I find myself thinking about rewards and gamification. 

Gamification, that buzzword that everyone wants to “try” is actually something we’ve been doing for quite a while using points. If you’ve ever received x amount of points out of y, and you’ve had to total those points up for an entire semester’s worth of work to calculate your grade, then you’ve played a game.

This is how I “gamed” the system in high school: get just enough points to be considered a decent student and nothing more. I didn’t care about getting first place. Second or third or fourth even was just fine with me.

Generally, I’ve been against rewards in the classroom, other than the intrinsic one of learning. They end up motivating a little too well, and then it becomes hard to teach without them because students come to expect them. When I had a class of 4th graders, I tried to avoid rewards but I made an an exception for rewards that had educational value, like books or puzzles. There was a girl once who was new to the US, and she once got a reward of a Wreck This Journal, which is a fun guided type of journal for kids (there are pages that you are required to get dirty, take in the shower, bury in the ground outside, etc). The experience, according to her, was life changing. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t caved to the idea of a reward.