Are Classroom Awards Worth It?

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Is there value in using classroom awards?  We think so through the use of results-based practices. 

 There are certainly best practices, and we don't want to encourage being good for a piece of candy.  But we have to remember that these are children we are talking about - life is meant to be enjoyed, and that includes school.

I love to hand out awards at any time of the year. Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors along with acknowledgement of hard work is a great thing.  

It is my personal belief that they should be mostly done at random to keep the classroom operating as a student-centered environment, but some students really need a more teacher-based model to get them on track (such as a Sticker a Day discussed below).

What does research say about using rewards for motivating students?

Rewards are concrete representations that something of value has been accomplished (1).  Make them:

  • explicit
  • useful in changing undesirable behaviors
  • randomly reinforced
  • remember that the extrinsic is just a reminder of internal (intrinsic) optimal behaviors
  • engage other staff members to bring the desired behaviors into other settings

On very important point about rewards:  bigger is not better (2).  Many times incentives can reduce any value students placed on doing well.  There is certainly a fine line to consider what type, how and when awards are implemented.

Classroom awards don't have to be just certificates (although those are nice for parents to put into scrapbooks!). It's also good to have a bit of fun with your students!

Try these unique and fun ideas to reward your students at any time of the year.

6 Fabulous Ideas for Rewarding Your Class

1.  I Heard a Teacher Say...
This is my very favorite way to reward my students, so naturally it gets the number one spot.

At the beginning of the year my kids and I brainstorm what rewards they would like (explained at number 6 below).  Then I mark off a spot on the whiteboard for us to write the word as we earn the letters.  

How do they earn a letter?  Whenever another teacher or adult compliments the class for anything they get a letter.  Examples are:

  • Helping pick up trash without being asked
  • Walking respectfully in the hallway
  • Sharing with others
  • Being kind when another student is struggling
  • Using good manners when speaking to adults and each other
  • Helping a teacher carry papers or opening a door for him/her

The children quickly make these types of behaviors a habit.  Yes, at first they will do it just to get the letter.  But it is amazing how fast these newly formed habits are ingrained into them.  My heart honestly swells up with pride as the year goes on because I have taught them more than academics:  I have helped mold them into becoming respectful, decent citizens of our community.

2. Candygrams
This is for the class and teacher that have a great sense of humor, and is usually done at the end of the year. It works well for older students or more mature primary students who "get" the joke.

It isn't hard to come up with ideas for these classroom rewards. Each student receives a candy bar that relates to a personal quality of him or her. When handing out the Candygrams, you should also announce why each one is well suited to the recipient.

Here are some ideas to get you going:

    Whatchamacallit: for the student who always raises his hand but forgets what he was going to say

    Snickers: for the one who has a wonderful laugh

    Ring Pop: for the girl who always has the latest fashion

    Mr. Goodbar: for the student who has excellent behavior

    Nutrageous: for the student who is extremely creative and has outrageous ideas

    Reese's Fast Break: for the child who always needs lots of bathroom breaks

    Skore: for anyone making the Honor Roll

    Jawbreaker: for the child who loves to talk

    Life Savers: for the teacher's helpers who really make our jobs a bit easier!

    Bit-O-Honey or Almond Joy: for the child who always was sweet to other kids

    Babe Ruth: for the student who excelled in gym class and the playground

3. Mind Your Manners!
These types of classroom awards can be done at anytime, and are perfect for incorporating into your classroom management strategies. Based on the knowledge of Emily Post, her lessons in good manners are still important for kids today.

There are 5 certificates, and they are free for you to use!

Good Manners Classroom Awards

Teach love, generosity, good manners and some of that will drift from the classroom to the home and who knows, the children will be educating the parents. ~Roger Moore

4. A Sticker a Day...
I sometimes hand out stickers at the end of every day. If a student has had a great day (either as defined by the classroom rules or by a student's individual behavior contract), then he or she gets a sticker on their chart.

Once a student earns 20 stickers, they can go to the treatbox.

Common, right?

Well, put a twist on it for classroom awards. Keep each sticker chart and once every child has filled up a sticker chart, use them for a class reward - their choice!

This way everyone has a vested interest in doing well!

5. Jackpot!
Jackpot: Ideas for Rewards This great list of ideas comes from Intervention Central. Jim Wright has compiled an excellent list of rewards that are really focused on student centered learning.

These classroom awards are quick and easy but help to develop intrinsic motivation in kids who might be normally hard to motivate.  The rewards range from academic activities and praise/recognition to using recreational activities to reward students for making great choices.

6.  Choose Your Reward
If you are like me, there is so little time to fit everything in.  As much as I like a movie day (who doesn't!) it really is a waste of time to do this more than once or twice in a year.

So I came up with a simple, yet highly motivating, reward that my kids love.  It's so easy and it isn't rocket science, but why hadn't I thought of this before?

Ask your class to brainstorm what they want to learn about for an entire day.

Ingenious.  We stay focused on learning, do math, reading, writing and science...and the kids have fun.  Ok, I do too!

Last year my class chose quite a few things to work for, but the top two topics were dinosaurs and Russia.  Seriously.  I never would have thought of this on my own.  

Fo example: our dinosaur day began with creating dino hats with geometric shapes and patterns, making finger puppets for oral story telling, buddy reading and interactive read alouds, writing short reports and observing different sets of teeth to discuss the diets of vegetarians, omnivores and carnivores.  

So what if dinosaurs aren't in my grade level standards?  Every learning activity we did is in there.  The kids had a wonderful day, and we did enjoy the dino-shaped treats my awesome homeroom parents sent in as a surprise!

Sources Cited
1. Extrinsic Rewards ~ Cal State referencing Chapter 7: Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. Allyn Bacon Publishers (2008)
2. Classroom Rewards Do Not Work - The Telegraph UK

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