As a teacher who has worked with many students who have struggled with behaviour, I’ve had the chance to try out lots of reward schemes. But the truth is that there is not a one size fits all solution. Instead it’s about experimenting and finding the strategy that works for the child. Below are some of my most frequently used go to systems and explanations of when they might be useful.
There is however one factor that I believe reward systems should have in common. And that is, that once a point or token is awarded it shouldn’t be lost. I believe in sanctions as well as rewards. However, I think the systems often work best as separate entities.
Token boards are most useful for very young children or those with limited language. They are perfect for encouraging task completion or for encouraging positive behaviours over a short period of time. The most successful token boards are based on a child’s individual interests. So for a child who loves Thomas The Tank Engine drawing a railway track on a piece of A4 paper and laminating it forms an excellent base. Then print of a selection of between 5 and 15 of your child’s favourite engines to become the tokens. Because the child is invested in the tokens as well as the overall prize, their chances of success are maximised. Printing off images of a selection of small rewards to put at the end of the board will also help as this provides a visual reminder of what success means.
Rewards can include anything from TV time, to snacks, from a game of chase to time spent on an electronic device. The important factors are that it must be something which the child will find rewarding, it must be available immediately and it must be tangible. Once a child has gained all of their tokens they should be allowed to immediately claim their reward.
Spontaneous Edible Treats
Although I am well aware that this is an issue that is open to disagreement. I am a big fan of edible treats. In fact at one point a member of staff told me that my classroom resembled Charlie’s Chocolate Factory! I like to use them spontaneously rather than as part of an official system. I also choose treats that are deliberately small as this increases the frequency with which I can distribute them without a) giving anyone too much sugar or b) upsetting the parents of students in my class. Raisins, Haribo, Popcorn and Ready Salted Pringles are among my favourites.
I produce them if I feel a student is working particularly hard, if a student has followed an instruction particularly quickly and if a student has been especially kind to someone else. But I also use them as a way of focusing on the positive rather than the negative. If five students have come straight to the table to work and one has refused, rewarding the positive is often far more effective than focusing on the one student who is refusing to participate. It’s also more likely to ensure that everyone comes straight to the table the following lesson.
Everyone likes to be rewarded for their hard work. After all, if you didn’t get paid, would you go to work? Take that one step further, if your boss paid you more for accomplishing more, would it make you push yourself even further? So whilst I can’t reward my students financially, I like them to know that I recognise when they have done a great job. They are therefore rewarded at the end of each 50 minute lesson with five minutes additional free time for excellent work, and five minutes additional free time for excellent behaviour. It gives them an incentive to work as hard as they can and more importantly it shows them that I have noticed and care that they try hard. This makes them much more likely to want to do so again the next lesson.
Tick sheets are a more grown up version of token boards, perfect for those students who want their support to be discreet. A post it note is placed in a student’s book with the target of ticks per lesson being set in advance, as the lesson continues ticks are awarded for good behaviour and/ or hard work discretely by either the teacher or a member of support staff. Ticks can then be traded at the end of the lesson for free time or a tangible reward.
Whilst praise in isolation may not be enough to change behaviour, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used in addition to other more tangible rewards. Be sensitive though to the needs of the individual, some children love praise to be big, bold and shouted from the roof tops whereas others prefer their praise delivered quietly in a more personal manner. Delivering it in the wrong way can limit and even completely reverse the effect.
Points Based Systems
These are best suited for older children who can cope with delayed gratification. Allowing children to collect points over an extended period of time allows them to save up for larger rewards such a cinema trip or new video game. The reward should be agreed on prior to the chart starting and children should visually be able to see their points stacking up as a reminder that they are getting nearer to their target. Points should be rewarded frequently for behaviours that you are trying to encourage.
These work really well with larger groups or siblings. Having a selection of treats available, each costing a different amount of points means that children have to think about when to trade in their points. The fact that someone else may buy their chosen reward first works as a motivating factor to keep trying hard and to keep saving. Points to spend should be rewarded frequently. I love to tie in the shop points to a child’s interest whenever possible Galleons for a child who loves Harry Potter, or Gold coins for a Sonic fan both work well.
Whichever you decide to use, remember timing and consistency are key. Recognising behaviours immediately and focusing in on the positive really will help children to want to make a difference to their behaviour.