In the second installment about changing behavior, we will talk about how rewards can impact your classroom. I highly recommend reading the first article before reading this one, as I reference it at one point a few paragraphs below.
Some days, it seems impossible to create an atmosphere in your school or classroom where students actually are excited to come. But I have never had a student not excited for a reward. Rewards are highly beneficial for classroom attitudes. Incorporating some rewards or prizes into your class can motivate your students and change the class's perspective on school.
There are two different types of motivation. You have probably heard of these before. First, there is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means that the student is self-motivated. They do things because they enjoy what they are learning about or are motivated by success. This is the ultimate goal as we want all students to come to school motivated to do their best just because they want to. However, this usually is not the case for most students. That is where extrinsic motivation comes into play. Extrinsic motivation is when students are motivated because they might receive an external reward. Extrinsic motivation usually works to get students going when nothing else seems to. Some may argue that giving too many intrinsic rewards may prevent students from ever becoming intrinsically motivated. However, we have to get students excited about school somehow. If these students can get any motivation to try in the classroom, eventually, they may become motivated intrinsically after feeling some success. Plus, the self-motivated students still can be motivated by rewards as well.
You can give out rewards for anything and everything that you want to motivate your students to do. Before COVID-19, I would reward students on random days just to say thanks for being at school. My current focus is rewarding for excellent on-task behavior. Doing this type of rewarding helps me recognize the positives in my students, as stated in the previous article. I also use the positive recognition from my last article to reward students even further. Each positive award a student got that week goes into a drawing for prizes. Although I do my drawings once a week, you could do them every day or once a month.
Rewards do not work unless children get to receive them. You do need to think about the students who might rarely or never earn a prize. I suggest rewarding those students based on what success looks like on their level. Reward them for what they do, instead of focusing on what they can't do. The rewards will help motivate them to continue to succeed.
Please check your school's and district's rules about what you can give out as a reward. They may differ from what you expect. One of the easiest (and most loved) ways to get the children's attention is food. Students will do anything for popcorn or candy. However, this reward may be frowned upon by the administration and parents. One of my personal favorite ways to reward them is by sending a note to an extraordinary student's family. One parent let me know they still have one of these notes on their fireplace mantel. I taught the student four years ago. Sometimes, I let the student have some input on the letter I am sending to their guardians. It can be hilarious to see the things they want you to tell their parents.
Rewarding students does not have to put more stress or cost a lot of money to the teacher. If you or your school is low on funds, you can use rewards that do not cost anything. This may force you to get very creative at times. Students also love prizes like getting to go early to lunch, being able to wear a hat, or seeing the teachers do silly things. I have an office chair that I do not let the students sit in it unless they have earned that as their reward. Another student favorite is receiving a homework pass that they can use at any time. These things are free but still serve as a reward for the positive behaviors they have been exhibiting. Some students like these rewards more than the ones that cost money.
Another free reward is having free time or a free day. I usually use this as a significant class reward. It is simple to print out a few different coloring pages and gather some games. Then I play a movie or just let them have free time. However, I suggest that you actually go around and play with the students. I know you need to catch up on grading, but building this rapport is essential. At the minimum, go around and see what they are choosing to do in their free time. Learning their interests can really help you in the long run. Many teachers mention that they do not have days to "waste" with a free day. However, if students want that free day, they will work harder or be more on task. You will get through more instruction faster, and it will make time for a free day for your students. You might be saving time by giving them the reward to strive for.
If you are struggling to find something to reward your students with, ask the students what could possibly motivate them. They may surprise you. I have had students who simply wanted to sit and talk about their pets with me as their reward. I had another who just wanted to have lunch with their teacher. Who knows what they might be motivated by?
Finding what will motivate your students is a trial and error process. You might not find a reward that really engages your students right away. As time passes, you can slowly remove how many rewards you do with your students or the frequency. That becomes more of a judgment call. Rewarding your students does not have to be a complicated process. If done correctly, it will be rewarding to you as well.