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Something Small & Positive Reinforcement

October 30, 2013

I’ve been in something of a blogging rut lately, so I thought I’d try to find something small to share and hope it sparks more posts. So here we go:

I’ve been trying to find more ways to create positive reinforcement in my classroom. The response to the Wall of Champions in terms of attitude and motivation was more than I could have imagined, so I’ve been experimenting with other ways for students to receive positive feedback for their behaviors. This is also a manifestation of one of my core classroom beliefs: my students will care about the things that I care about. If I show them that certain types of behaviors are important, they will also think that these types of behaviors are important. So, I decided at the beginning of the year to create little ‘award’ cards to give to students when I see them doing something I like. Here they are:

These awards are meant to reward students who are doing things that I value in a student without the student necessarily realizing it or intentionally behaving this way. They’re not always the students who are incredibly eager to volunteer themselves in front of the whole class, which means its hard to find those moments when they open themselves up for positive reinforcement. I could find time to compliment them individually, but sometimes I forget or the moment has passed. These are the hard-working students who tend to fade into the background. And these awards are my quiet ways of saying “Hey – I notice you. And you’re doing a good job. Keep it up”. 

Here’s how they work: I printed them on colored cardstock, cut them out, and carry a few in my back pocket throughout class. When I see a student doing something that fits in these categories, I find a moment to write their name on the award, and then quietly slip it in front of them. I try not to make a big deal about it and purposely ignore them when they ask “What’s this?” – they need to read it first. I don’t make a big deal about it, but my nonchalant attitude is sometimes more enticing and mysterious than the most elaborate performance I could create. Once a few of these start circulating, students pick up on it and start noticing it. The students who receive them feel validated that their hard work is noticed – that they’re doing something right – and the students who don’t receive them now know that these are the behaviors I’m looking for. And, hopefully, they’ll start imitating them.

A Fun Anecdote: These cards and this presentation is partly inspired by a story that a former colleague told me. Different organizations at my school sell candy bars in the hallways as a fundraising opportunity. My friend would always buy a Snickers in the morning, then put the candy bar on top of his smartboard. Throughout the day, he’d be on the lookout for a reason to give the Snickers away – something positive, worthwhile, and non-academic that one of his students would do. It was usually something different every day, in a different class period, to a different student – but he always gave it away.

One day, during a break in his lesson, one of his top students – without any prompting or explicit motivation – got up, changed seats so he was sitting next to a struggling student, and started helping him with the problem they were working on. After a few minutes, my friend grabbed the Snickers and handed it to the top student. Another top student saw this and asked the teacher “Wait, what just happened? Why did he get the Snickers?”. My friend responded, “I don’t know. He decided to help someone else out. It was a good thing to do”.

The next day, during a break in the lesson – without any prompting or explicit motivation – both students got up and went around and tried to help struggling students.

From → Classroom Theory

  1. I love this. We start a new term Monday and I’m going to adopt this for my classes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is awesome! I hate doing participation because I have a ton of students who are either shy or just overshadowed by the … exuberance of their classmates, but a “Quiet Determination Award” is a brilliant idea! Thank you!

  3. I love this–I need to print these and use them ASAP in my classes!

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