Do reward systems actually work in the classroom?

Reward systems are often talked about in the staff room and on online forums, and it seems the biggest source of doubt about starting one is a pretty fundamental one: do that actually work? Let’s see if we can answer some of the questions surrounding classroom reward systems.

What’s the principle behind classroom reward systems?

The principle behind a reward system is that children need extra motivation to avoid misbehaviour at one end of the spectrum, and to excel at the other. Indeed, children who don’t struggle and are not disruptive are often themselves the ones most in need of motivation, as they usually quite enjoy their work and feel a sense of achievement from being in the top half of the class. However, those children are often stopping well short of their potential. It’s easy to forget that they are still kids, who have underdeveloped senses of forward planning, but a reward system can help with its development – and it can be fun, too.

What types of systems are there?

There are as many types of reward system as there are children. Each has his or her own motivating factors and sources of temptation to misbehave. However, there’s plenty to be said for a token-based rewards system, as it makes a direct link between good behaviour and reward, and bad behaviour and the forfeit of those rewards. A skilled teacher will understand what motivates individual children and, if there’s time, budget and help, should tailor the rewards to the children based on their tastes and motivations.

Who benefits from rewards systems?

In truth, everyone benefits from such a system. The individual child starts to link behaviour with reward, and that’s a lifelong skill. The teacher has a tool to weed out or reduce disruptive elements. And the whole class benefits from the improvement in behaviour as a result. And whisper this, but even the parents might benefit from a more positively motivated kid!

What are the drawbacks?

The main drawback is that a reward scheme can take time and effort to set up, and if it’s not focused on the individual needs of the child, it can fall on stony ground. Promising a child that they’ll be able to play football when they have no interest in the game is hardly a motivation, so there’s an element of background work, and constant tweaking, that is beyond the resources of some schools.

Do they actually work?

Well, if they don’t work, there’s a multi-billion pound industry that’s taking businesses all around the world for a ride. Workplace rewards systems are used and trusted system for corporates and even small businesses. The rewards could be days out, works parties, individual gifts or even drinks on a Friday afternoon, and there are companies devoted to providing the ideas and the rewards themselves for employees and teams. If it works for grown-ups, there’s no reason to suppose it won’t work for kids too, although as a disclaimer, we would never condone Friday afternoon drinks in the classroom.

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