When Are Rewards Okay?


I figured out I didn’t like giving out rewards before the end of my first month teaching. On the first day that year, I outlined a system for the class in which they would earn five marbles in a jar every time they got to the meeting area in under a minute, every time they behaved properly during a fire drill, etc. Pretty mundane, pretty conditional, pretty stupid.

There were subsequent times in which I said, to individuals and the whole group, “If you _____, you will get _____.” This, I learned, worked best when dilly-dallying was taking the place of productivity and time was running out. Not perfect, of course, because kids would soon figure out that anytime they wanted what I gave them, they could dilly-dally!

Last year, at the end of my rope with a certain student (do you remember Donald?) I wrote, for the first time in my career, a behavior intervention plan. It was based on conditional rewards, and my expectation was that, eventually, Donald would, in essence, respond to the bell regardless of whether the reward was coming. (Two rounds of sticker charts and he was set for the rest of the year).

Today, I kicked off a grand plan to help an easily distracted, seemingly unmotivated, often defiant student. I wrote it last week and presented it to his mother so she would be on board. Per the plan, the student gets a sticker from me every time he: a) focuses for five minutes; b) asks a question or shares an idea with a partner or the class; and c) accepts assistance from a peer or adult. At home, he gets a sticker for: a) allowing his parents or older sister to help him do his work; and b) reading for 15 minutes with one of his parents or his sister.

Upon receiving 20 stickers, the student has the opportunity to choose something he enjoys: computer time, art supplies, time playing with ocean animal toys, etc. Wouldn’t you know that today he earned 22 stickers and went home with a set of watercolors?

These are all items in which the child needs to improve. He is frequently disengaged and hardly ever interacts with other students. With the guarantee of something tangible for engaging in positive behaviors, my expectation is that this student’s attitude and achievement will improve.

This is not something I would consider for all students. For those who say it’s unfair, I ask if it’s something they really need in order to focus and do well. Universally, they say it isn’t.

I am hopeful that as more positivity comes from this plan, the student in question will exhibit the desired behaviors regardless of the positive reinforcement, and that, at least for the rest of the year, he will be set up for more success than he has ever had.

This is the text of the behavior plan I wrote. It is stapled into a notebook in which I can write notes home. The notebook also has the sticker charts stapled in s we can monitor progress. The names of concerned parties have been changed.

School to Home Behavior Plan for Eduardo

Teacher: Mr. Smith

Parent: Mrs. Sanchez

April 30, 2012

Goal: To establish a plan for Eduardo to improve his academic achievement by: maintaining focus, accepting assistance from adults and peers, and working with others.

Analysis: Eduardo maintains focus in whole-group settings for less than 30 seconds at a time, requiring frequent redirection. He is disengaged for the majority of lessons. Because of his disengagement, he must have directions repeated for him and concepts retaught. He rarely works with a partner or in a group, regardless of whether the grouping is created for him to act in a supporting or supportive role.

At home, Eduardo refuses assistance from his parents and older sister, and therefore does not always satisfactorily complete his work.

Specific goals: In school, Eduardo will maintain focus in a whole-class setting for a minimum of five minutes. He will actively participate by responding to questions and sharing with a partner. He will accept assistance from others without shutting down.

At home, Eduardo will allow his parents or older sister to work with him when he does his homework. He will read with his parents or older sister at least 15 minutes every night.

Ideas: In school, Eduardo will sit in front of the meeting area, closest to the teacher. A paraprofessional will monitor his ability to focus for 5 minutes. He will receive a sticker for every 5-minute increment in which he focuses consistently. He will receive a sticker for raising his hand to participate and when he participates in a prompted situation and socializes with a partner (by sharing an opinion, answer, idea, or appropriate information).

At home, Eduardo will complete his homework with the assistance of his parents or older sister. He will receive a sticker upon completing the homework. He will read 15 minutes with his older sister or parents. He will receive a sticker upon completing the reading.

When he earns 20 stickers (between school and home), Eduardo will receive a reward of his choice from the teacher: a special pencil, time playing with a fidget toy, a sheet of stickers, 15 minutes of computer time on Friday afternoon, 15 minutes in the science center, art supplies, etc.

The sticker checklist will remain in his homework folder so it can be transported between home and school.

Communication: The teacher will provide short daily notes summing up Eduardo’s day. His family will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do in school.

Eduardo’s family will provide short daily notes summing up how Eduardo did at home.  His teacher will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do at home.

The teacher and parents will periodically communicate after school and via written notes to monitor Eduardo’s progress.

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2 responses to “When Are Rewards Okay?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: Ravitch says N.Y. is getting the tests it’s paying for | GothamSchools

  2. What a great post! I love talking about behaviors and behavior plans. Behaviors are my forte =) I have always done a preference assessment for rewards, or ranked the rewards in terms of how expensive/how often they can be given. The more special items were harder to earn. Things like “using the teachers special mechanical pencil,” on the other hand, were easy to earn. So for your example, I might have 10 stickers be to use a mechanical pencil, 20 stickers to do work at the teacher’s desk, 30 stickers to be a class helper, 40 stickers to have computer time, 50 stickers to earn a prize, etc. This is beneficial because some kids need to start out with daily rewards but you don’t want to keep that up forever! As they prove that they have the knowledge of good behavior (skill) and can do the good behaviors in class (performance), they graduate to other tiers of rewards (so you start decreasing how often they are being rewarded). Eventually behavior becomes more natural for them and they don’t need the constant reinforcement.

    And also, for those who don’t believe in rewarding students.. I always tell them that in life we do everything based on rewards and consequences. If you show up to work every day and do a great job, you will be rewarded with a pay check. If you do not pay your electric bill, your power will be shut off. Some of our students are taught these behaviors and find reward in good grades and praise from teachers.. Other students need extra help to learn that.

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