How to use reward systems to motivate students

There’s little doubt among teachers and those studying child behaviour that rewards systems really work in the classroom. Children just out of nappies are perfectly capable of recognising the connection between good behaviour, or exceptional performance, and reward sometime in the future. It gives teachers another tool in the box when it comes to class discipline and also pushing up the grades, or at least making children realise their potential.

But how is a reward scheme actually set up? How does it operate in practice? We’re going to have a brief look here.

Traditionally, schools have used stars and charts to motivate children. Most of us will remember getting silver, gold and coloured stars in our school books, and some might still feel a slight surge of pride at the thought of it. The funny thing is, it’s a worthless, intangible reward, but once you’ve had your first exposure to it, the reward instinct is triggered.

Some schools have charts on the walls, with each student’s name next to merits and possibly demerits, which visibly compares them to each other. This system relies of the factors of pride and shame to gain motivation, and although it’s frowned upon by a lot of educationalists, others swear it works.

House points are another system, which introduces peer pressure into the equation. If there are three or four houses in competition with each other, and it’s the individual actions of children that win points for the house, there’s a real incentive to perform. For children who might not be academically gifted but who perform well on the sports field, for example, this system is a great leveller.

The use of physical tokens to measure rewards is also a good way of motivating. A token is, in essence, a gold star, but it’s a bit more tangible, and when it’s combined with a cumulative system that gives a physical reward when a certain threshold is met, it becomes a currency in the disciplinary marketplace.

Tokens can be used from early years onwards, as there’s plenty of evidence that not only do kids respond to it, but also that it works. Once good behaviour gets a value, would-be miscreants start to behave, and non-disruptive students start to behave even better.

The good thing about these systems is that they can be used on an individual basis, a house basis or even a class basis. Imagine the kudos you get from your peers if your fantastic project wins tokens that will benefit the whole house at the end of term. Prizes like toys, extra playtimes, chocolate and movies are that much more enjoyable when you’ve had a hand in delivering them.

As children progress through their educational careers, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be exposed to new rewards systems. The prizes might change, and the reasons for winning adapt from mere good behaviour to displaying academic excellence and other admirable traits, but the principle remains the same. It’s drumming into children a lesson that will carry them through life – working hard has its benefits.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest offers and news

Please accept to our privacy policy to continue.