Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Using Student Awards to Promote Self-Reflection

An elementary teacher shares some ideas for how awards can be used to foster students’ growth, self-awareness, and learning.

June 13, 2023
Emma Godeassi / The iSpot

The end of the school year is always a time full of excitement, joy, and oodles of awards ceremonies to celebrate the year’s accomplishments. Teachers choose students to be publicly recognized for their achievements at an end-of-year assembly. Proud parents line up with cameras to snap photos of their child beaming onstage with an award in hand. 

There’s no doubt that many students covet being chosen by their teachers to receive an award. While it feels great to win an award at any time during the school year, what are students really learning from the awards they receive? 

Meaningful rewards

This is a perfect time to rethink awards that promote self-reflection and to celebrate student growth, not perfection. By involving students in the self-reflection process, awards become an opportunity for students to identify and honor their own strengths, at the end of the school year and throughout the year. Here are some reasons to promote self-reflection in awards ceremonies. Self-reflection does the following things:

  • Fosters growth. When students reflect on their progress, they have a better road map of where they’ve been and where they want to go. This will help students set realistic goals for themselves, and setting realistic goals will increase the likelihood of student success and boost self-esteem.
  • Builds self-awareness. Self-reflection not only helps students track their progress but also enables them to understand their own learning style. This will help students to know not only where they want to go but also what strengths they can use to get there. By becoming more aware of their own strengths and limitations, students will be able to draw upon their strengths to overcome challenges.
  • Deepens the learning. Self-reflection encourages students to look inward and ask critical questions not only about what they’ve learned but also about how they learned it. This helps students engage in deeper learning beyond the content and encompasses their personal learning process. The learning process becomes a reward in itself.
  • Develops leadership skills. Self-reflection at its core can be students looking back on the day, week, semester, or year and analyzing what they did well and what they can improve. This requires high-level thinking as well as robust social and emotional awareness. These are exactly the types of skills that define true leaders. When we teach our students to routinely self-reflect, we’re also building their leadership potential.

There’s no better reward a teacher can bestow upon a student than teaching them how to identify their own strengths and areas for growth. The end of the year is a  perfect time to do this. Here are some fun ways to make this time, and other times of recognition throughout the year, more reflective:

Self-made awards

In order to make the awards process more reflective and meaningful, have students think deeply on their accomplishments and growth areas to create a specialized award for themselves. Students can then take turns publicly sharing their personalized award with their classmates, parents, and school community.

For example, a student might award themself “Amazing Artist,” “Most Likely to Be President,” or “Best Listener.” By cutting out the middleman, self-made awards promote self-awareness and empower students to identify their own strengths and talents.

Awards that Celebrate Growth

Have students make a “strengths résumé” at the beginning of the year that allows them to reflect on their strengths and identify areas to improve. They can update their résumé at the end of the year to include ways they have grown over the year. Students can share their strength résumé with their classmates and parents.

The strength résumé can also travel with the student from year to year to document growth and achievements.

Group Awards

Instead of focusing only on individual awards, students might have fun thinking up group awards for their class. Students can reflect on the favorable aspects of their class and come up with a whole-class award.

This practice will help students think interdependently and better understand that everyone benefits when we work together.

awards for Accomplishments

Another way to promote reflection, not perfection, is to reward specific skills and dispositions. Instead of giving a “Student of the Month” award, give a monthly award for a quality piece of student work, an exemplary art piece, or critical thinking skills. For example, have a monthly award that showcases “Excellent Narrative Writing Piece” or “Clearest Explanation of Mathematical Thinking.”

Teachers can also acknowledge interpersonal skills by rewarding teamwork. For example, award multiple students for “Most Cooperative Group Work.” By rewarding specific skills and dispositions rather than an individual, you’ll provide samples of excellence for students to strive toward.

Self-reflection requires courage and patience. Teaching students to be self-reflective will give them a skill that will help them throughout their lives in whatever path they choose. While it’s nice to have an award to put up on the refrigerator, becoming self-reflective is a reward in itself.

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Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Student Engagement
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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