The Schoolroom Peace Plan, Part Three: Rewards | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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This is the third part of a six-part entry. Start with the introduction.

How do you appreciate individuals, or table groups, or the whole class when students do what you ask them to do?

You've heard this before, and it really works: You can't praise or reward kids enough. Do it until you are oozing honey. It works.

I often hear teachers say, "It's just not my personality to be like that," and "Am I going to have to do this -- praise them like crazy -- all year?" Depending on your grade and class, you will have to do intense, sometimes exaggerated rewarding and appreciating during the first few months of school. If you do this well and use other management strategies effectively, you won't have to indefinitely, fifty times a day, thank them for walking in your room quietly.

And if you feel that it's not your personality and that you weren't raised that way and that as a kid, you always just did what teachers asked, know that your behavior can change. You can become an I-like-the-way-Miguel-is-getting-to-work-so-quickly kind of teacher.

So, what kind of rewards should you give? Definitely announce your praise, all the time. Try to sound authentic if it doesn't come naturally. The praise also needs to be tangible. Hand out coupons, class money, pencils, erasers, and stickers. Most kids don't really care about the object; it's what the reward represents. Older middle school students will throw your coupon in the trash in front of you, but don't be fooled: At this age, they have to stay cool with their peers; they have to do that. But inside, every time you hand them one of your goofy coupons, they are grinning.

Find out what your students want. What feels like a reward to them? Is it a note or a phone call home to their parents? A homework pass? An assignment as class helper?

What middle school students prize perhaps more than anything is positive communication to the home. Set a personal goal to make ten positive calls home each day. Keep poster-size lists on the wall of your classroom that name the students who get positive calls home. They may act embarrassed, but they're bluffing. It's a great strategy to develop positive peer pressure. If you don't do phone calls, sending little notes home can work, too.

If students work in groups, you can also reward the groups. And you can use this structure to foster class competition. For instance, give points to groups that are working well: "Everyone in the Green Group is working on their experiment together. They get three points!" At the end of the week, the group with the most points wins. What do they win? They just win! You'd be surprised. For many students, that's enough. If not, bring out the pencils and stickers.

And, finally, the whole class needs rewards. What do they get when, finally, they all come in from lunch quietly and are reading silently and it's smooth and beautiful and you are afraid to breathe because it's so perfect?

First, they get your exaggerated but sincere verbal praise: "I really appreciate how you guys came in from lunch. You are showing me what mature, respectful, and responsible students you can be. I knew you were capable of this. It's so exciting to see that you can follow these directions, because now we can do more things together such as read in small groups or take a field trip to the library. I am so proud of this class."

You can't praise them enough.

And, finally, a whole class also needs a tangible reward for positive behavior. Many teachers let a class earn some form of free time or PAT (Preferred-Activity Time). You can give class points for following instructions. Set a point goal, and when they reach that goal, they get the free time. Some teachers take points away when students commit egregious crimes such as throwing things, but others feel that you should never take away points.

Don't forget that before they get PAT, you need to spend a few minutes going over your expectations for what will happen during that time. Can they move around the room? Listen to music? Sit on desks? Dance? Get on computers?

Let them earn rewards often. PAT need only be ten minutes long; it's really all about the positive recognition, about the winning.

What are you doing to praise your students? What's worked? What would you like to try? Please share your thoughts, and check back for the next part of this entry.

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jamey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have really been working on using rewards in my classroom this year. My concern is that students then do the right things for extrinsic reasons. I have always heard that we want students to do the right things for intrinsic reasons. Is there a happy medium? Should I continue to use rewards with the hope that eventually students will be intrinsically motivated? I would really appreciate your thoughts on the debate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Marie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I do believe rewarding students is very important. I teach first grade and rewarding students really helps them keep themselves focused. Not every reward has to be something like a pencil or candy. I make a list of students that are doing the right thing everyday and post it on the chalkboard. Most of the time students are so excited to see their name on the board with a smiley face they don't care that they are not even receiving a prize. I do believe rewards have to be modified according to grades. Younger children like to be rewarded with stickers or pencils but older children tend to respond more to positive calls home, lunch with the teacher or being another teacher's helper.

Faye Donohue's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have used positive reinforcement successfully for 28 years in grades one through five. I have moved away from extrinsic rewards such as candy, small toys,etc. to the more intrinsic. I try to model how good I feel when other teachers, administrators, support and related arts teachers as well as parents compliment me on the positve actions of my class. I sometimes use these compliments as a writing prompt. I will write a message to the class about how I felt about a recent compliment and ask them to write in their journals about a time a teacher made them feel good about an action or a behavior. When I write responses in their double entry journals I try to express my pride in their accomplishments. I try to get children to verbalize how they feel when praised.Young children have always sought approval from their teachers. That hasn't changed one bit since I first began teaching. I do not have experience with teaching middle school grades but I have a son in seventh grade. He has never responded to stickers, pencils,etc. but in sixth grade, he was highly motivated by earning homework passes. He viewed them as authentic rewards because the result was extra free time to play. He continues to work for them in seventh grade but one teacher places so many restrictions on the use of the earned homework pass that they don't seem "worth it" to him. They can't be used on certain assignments and certain days. I understand that some assignments are required for a grade or concept knowledge assessment and therefore, should be completed, but this teacher makes it very difficult to use the pass even for review assignments. He has earned 7 this semester and hasn't been allowed to use any. I doubt if this reward practice is going to continue to be effective for him!

Kelsey K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jamey, personally I like to have a nice balance between both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For my students, I am constantly giving positive remarks for students that are helpful, ready to work, etc. However, I do have a class reward that everyone has to work together for to achieve. When I was student teaching, we gave daily rewards by pulling names out of a bucket of students that had received the tickets for good work. The problem was that I wasn't completely consistent and would forget to pull the names or have prizes or even give out tickets, plus it gets quite expensive! I think the most important is intrinsic rewards but I don't think a little extrinsic motivation hurts either!

Ebin Winters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 8th grade math in an urban area and I find that the most memorable and charished reward is a positive comment sent home. This is a goal that I set for myself in the beginning of my career, I maintain a good relationship with the guardians, update them on their childs successes, I let them know when they are struggling and need additional support. My students look forward to this but they never know when it is coming. I don't even have to tell the students about it, I send 20 or so in the first two weeks of school and I hear students talking about it. It has worked out wonderfully! Another reward I have used is a classroom award for working hard and staying focused during classwork time. I allow the students the 15 minutes of free time and they are allowed to play games, get on the computer, read, or simply sit and chat. They know when they are working up to it, once the first reward is issued all of the classes want that reward. I must say that I think this is most effective because I join in with the free time with the students, we play math games, card games and have competitions. They love it and it is effective! I must say that I believe you can reward too much, set time limits and extend them each time, it is a new challenge to the students and if presented that way it is a small goal that they can achieve as a team. Sometimes by the end of the year I am shocked at how effective this has been!

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