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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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.

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