Classroom rewards systems can be super effective at motivating students. They can also consume a huge amount of time and money, keep students from developing intrinsic motivation, and lose their effectiveness over time.
I couldn’t believe how well-behaved my students were the first week. They focused on their work. They raised their hands. Transitions took half the time. It was awesome! Then the problems started.
One year I implemented a money reward system in my classroom. Students earned Behavior Bucks for keeping their desks clean, turning in homework, walking quietly in the hallways, and a variety of other positive behaviors. They paid Behavior Bucks for interrupting, forgetting supplies, using disrespectful language, and so on.
I couldn’t believe how well-behaved my students were the first week. They focused on their work. They raised their hands. Transitions took half the time. It was awesome!
Then the problems started. Students lost their Behavior Bucks wallets. A counterfeiter emerged. Bullies extorted Behavior Bucks from other kids. The students who needed the most motivation decided they didn’t care anymore, while others seemed to think of nothing else. I was no longer running my reward system. It was running me.
If you’d like your classroom reward system to work better than mine did, I suggest three things:
Keep it Simple
Whether you’re using table points, marbles in a jar, tokens, or class currency, if it takes a lot of time or effort to keep up with, it will not be sustainable. Make sure your tracking system is quick and simple, and avoid long lists of ways to earn and lose incentives. If you have to put it on a chart so you and your students can remember it, it’s probably too complicated. I suggest offering incentives as they are needed in the moment, instead of making a list of what you will reward and what you will not.
Be Fair and Consistent
Don’t reward only one student for a behavior that several are exhibiting, or over-reward struggling students while ignoring students who always do the right thing. If you promise a reward, be sure to follow through. Also, don’t give a reward that isn’t earned or punish a whole group for the behavior of a few students.
Recognize and Motivate Instead of Manipulate and Control
Use your classroom rewards system to recognize what students are doing right. Students enjoy the challenge of working toward a goal. Many of them also feel good when someone notices something they did right. No one enjoys feeling like a puppet on a string. A reward system will succeed or fail based on how it makes your students feel. If they feel good, it will work. If they feel bad, it will fail.
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!
Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies
Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources
- Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
- 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
- The Take-Charge Teacher
- All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2
- Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
- Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
- 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
- What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?
- Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
- Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
- A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
- The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide