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.

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Comments (15) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Faye's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jamey, over the years, I've tried extrinsic rewards at the beginning of the year with hopes of moving toward intrinsic but it has never worked for me. I guess it is human nature to continue to expect tangible rewards. In the past two years, I have not even started any extrinsic rewards and the resulting behavior has been exactly the same. The students don't miss what they never had. The rewards are extra recess or free time, having their picture on the "Caught Being Good" board, lunch with the teacher, or positive notes, phone calls or e-mails home. Fortunately I have good parental support and they may choose to follow up with an extrinsic reward.

Pam B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Positive reward is a great motivator for kids. I work with 9th grade students teaching Algebra I. This is especially true when attitudes have improved to the point where students are actually doing their work. I make it a point to praise students for doing their work and for doing good on quizzes and tests. My students respond well to the homework passes. I do make calls to parents when they are having problems and I am starting to call parents for doing good and for displaying leadership skills in class. It is true that students do like the pats-on-the-back for doing good. I also remind them that doing their work is something they are supposed to do but it does not hurt to praise them. I believe that when students know that you care, they will go the extra mile to do their best.

Nicole 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important in the classroom. I give raffle tickets to those who are working hard, listening, helping others, etc. Each table of students works as a team to earn beans by exhibiting much the same behaviors. At the end of the week we have a raffle drawing, and a bean drawing. We also record compliments received by our class. When we reach a certain number, we have a class party. Of course, intrinsic motivation is the goal. Some can use a little help getting there!

Ebin Winters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. The creative ways we have individually come up with to make connections and provide praise have and will continue to yield positive results in the classroom.

Brandon Q's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For every ten days my students go without a detention or write-up, I allow my students 15 minutes to listen to music. I choose the radio station, cd, or song on my ipod. For everyday my students are well behaved (no detention or write-up) the days add up. If a student is wirten-up or receives a detention the days start over at zero. This helps to put pressure on my students to behave especially when they get close to day 10. I would like to allow my students to listen to their own iPods, but our school has a no iPod policy, so I stick to the rules.

I teach 10th and 11th graders.

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For me extrinsic rewards are one of the worst things you can do as an elementary teacher. I did them for about one month and realized that the only reason the students were behaving was for the rewards and if they knew they weren't going to get a reward it resulted in them not caring anymore. It was also very difficult to give out the rewards fairly. I felt that it was wrong to give rewards for expected behavior. Once I rewarded them for good behavior whats next... rewarding them for listening to a lesson, or doing their homework; these things should be required and students should feel an intrinsic motivation to do them. I have found that verbal praise or phone calls home work better. I do admit that I have given class rewards. These were earned over a long period of time and they were a surprise - the students didn't know whether they were working towards getting me to say "I am proud of you!" or extra recess. Also, by not spending money on physical prizes, I am able to buy books and learning materials for the classroom, and the students are very excited to get something new - so thats kind of a reward too. So instead of rewarding students to get them to do what I need them to do, we discuss solutions to problems we are having in the classroom and practice doing things correctly. Overall, their are much better ways to motivate students.

Tonya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds like a great idea to employ. I try to offer praise often, but usually not for the class as a whole...only individually.

Michele Scavone's picture

I have had much success with positive reinforcments. I teach technology for elementary school. Stickers work well with Grades 1 -5. To my surprise the 5th graders were just as responsive to stickers as the 1st graders. I also co-teach LAL for 3rd grade and we give the children play money each week, their "paycheck" doing what is expected of them. They are also fined for inappropriate behavior, and not doing what is expected. Each Friday is payday and every Monday they have the opportunity to spend money on things like markers, pencils, homework passes, etc. This has also worked well for us. Teaches them the value of money too!

Patricia Hill's picture

This is the best comment I have read yet. I am pre-service and do my student teaching after Christmas. Your classroom management style sounds like it really fosters community and the fact that the kids see that you want to get time off for good behavior too helps make the point that we all have to work and we all like to play. I like your style!

Patricia Hill's picture

Your classroom management style sounds like what I would hope for in my own classroom. I am pre-service and go into student teaching in the spring. I love the way your ideas show the students that there is a time for work and a time for play. Hey, we are teachers, but we like to get tome off for good behavior too. Joining in the freetime acivities is a great community builder. I like your style!

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