Education • Future • Learning
We are all motivated by something! It's something that is innate in the human psyche. There is usually something worth pursuing for us...as long as the effort presents us with a reward.
This reward may look, feel, taste or take shape in a certain way that may be unique to the person's goals and desires, however, at it's simplest, you can't deny that a reward after some hard work makes us feel good.
For some it's something that motivates, "If I do this, then I will achieve this".
The students in your classroom feel the same way and just a heads-up, if you haven't already realised, learning isn't always something that they are motivated by.
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
This is something you most certainly came across during your teaching degree. The opposing ideas that teachers envision in their classroom. One more ideal than the other.
One not so easily obtained as the other...
"Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials." (source)
"Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual." (source)
I'll bet that most of us can fit into the Extrinsic category on most days. It's not all bad, some would agree that some motivation is better than no motivation at all. Does this philosophy hold up well in a classroom? yes, and no...
It's tough to break by the time students reach middle school and high school.
By the time we see students in middle and high school, they are at the stage where they have either formed their own ideas about the world around them, or are very close to it.
Let's face it, your students learn from their families, normal people who are most definitely motivated extrinsically in some way. Not everyone is blessed to work in a job they LOVE or do what they do on a daily basis because they love it. Most students come from families where money is the motivator. They witness their parents working in order to put food on the table, again, extrinsic motivation.
Even when it comes to sporting, very commonly, our students will be motivated to achieve in a sport, for the win, receiving a medal, receiving attention. All extrinsic motivators.
The way that our world runs does not shape students into young people that are always willing to be motivated to learn just because they enjoy it.
Is there a classroom behaviour reward system that really works?
Honestly, there are many. However, just to make things clear here; If you're searching for reward systems, your're basically letting go of the ideal that learners can be motivated solely by their love of learning and their genuine curiosity in the subject matter you present them with.
You're here because you're after ideas, tangible ideas and lucky for you, reward systems that target extrinsic motivation are actually very effective!
I am a firm believer of students putting the work before receiving a reward. If you do decide to implement a rewards system in your classroom, it should not be one that is easily or cheaply obtained. For example, giving a student a piece of candy for putting their hand up and answering a question correctly.
A strong reward system has a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. A good example of this would be that the student may have to answer ten questions correctly, raising their hand to earn a reward or part-of.
This way the student is given the opportunity to participate in the learning several times, achieve success in the learning several times and then eventually receive a reward.
The main point being that we must allow students the opportunity to enjoy themselves with the learning before rewarding them. If you begin to reward something that is done for enjoyment, you begin to remove the original motivation, the enjoyment from the equation. This is known as the "Overjustification Effect"
Basically your aim when coming up with classroom reward ideas is as follows:
What kind of rewards are acceptable?
This is where you need to be careful. You can be as creative as you want, but the golden rule here is to chose something that you will stick to and follow through with.
The minute your students begin to pick up that you're not following through with your reward system, you may find their efforts in pursuing it will begin to wane.
The key is to pick something you know your students will love and simultaneously, something that you can easily keep track of.
I've had my fair go at implementing a few myself and I've found that while I'm in the classroom, making 4 educational decisions per minute (you know the statistic), I don't want an added level of complication increasing my workload or blowing my mental togetherness! - You can't have too much going on.
Choose a student-managed or a class-based reward idea.
Tally System -
This one works quite well after a conversation about trust and honesty. You can award one tally point to a student that does something that exhibits your classroom expectations e.g. completing a task, answering a question correctly, promptly following an instruction, helping out a fellow classmate.
I like to give tricky tasks or extension work that is worth two tallies. It's often a good shove for some of the more complacent students. For students that decide to save up their points, I have ice blocks in the freezer for 20 tallies.
This makes them responsible for collecting their tallies in the back of their books and redeem them for a prize. I've been known to carry a goody-bag around with me full of cheap bits of colourful stationery and candy.
Its up to you to decide with the class how many tallies earn a prize and an appropriate timeslot as to when they can redeem their hard-earned points.
Raffle System -
If you would like to be more in charge of the system you might like this one. You need some equipment for it however, plastic container with a lid and a book of raffle tickets.
After discussing with your class, your expectations and the actions and behaviours you'd like to reward them for, your token to them is a raffle ticket.
Keep it in hand or pocket and put one in theur hands when you see fit. They are responsible for putting their names on them, and on their way out the door, they drop them into your container.
At the end of a set period of time (weekly, fortnightly, etc) you pick out 3 winners and they earn a prize.
Sticker Charts -
A bit old-skool. If you're keen on it, you could always run a chart with stickers. This might be more suitable for rewarding homework tasks completed on time or for completing extension activities etc.
I've seen this run well where a teacher would announce 2- 3 names at the end of a lesson for "workers of the day." The students that put in the most effort or completed tasks to a high-standard - not necessarily always the student who is the smartest or the 'fastest finisher'.
Try a class based reward idea...
Mission Impastable -
I've had the most success with this in a middle/high school setting and it is super easy to run. You'll need a bag of dried pasta, any shape or colour, and a nice tall jar.
You set the expectations with your class, and every time you see fit to reward a student for demonstrating these expectations, you hand them a piece of pasta. They add the pasta to the jar on their way out the door or during the lesson.
You can put markings on the jar and reward the class as they reach each marked goal OR you can save the goal for when they fill the entire jar. Both of these ideas would ideally use different sized jars.
Some ideas for class-based rewards might be an activity such as playing a sport, listening to music, a class game or some free time etc. Maybe you give them the week off homework?
If pasta doesn't appeal to you, a collection of buttons or marbles in a jar works just fine too! If you wanted to, you could probably pull out the ol' sticker chart for this one as an extra alternative here too.
Why should you implement a classroom reward system?
Ultimately your goal here is to promote constructive behaviours in your class, see some learning happen and reward students for doing the right thing!
It is SO important as a teacher, to look for the positives displayed by your students in the classroom. It Is a much more effective pathway towards enticing students to do the right thing, than constantly focusing on correcting bad behaviours and correcting them.
Highlighting the good things your students are doing, and when they are meeting your classroom expectations is a great avenue for building rapport with your students, and to tell you the truth, it feels better too!
The second part of the goal here is to have your students working toward something that motivates them, tell them when they are on track to earning a reward, let them enjoy (or build interest in) the task you set them and then finally reward them for their efforts. A good balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
I hope you found these classroom reward ideas for middle school useful.