Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Instead of Class Rewards: 10 Steps to Take

Are you nervous about getting rid of your class rewards? Scared that without the external motivators, students won't behave? So was I. Here are 10 things to try in place of a class reward system. It has worked for me!

1. Begin the year in awe of your students. Let them know daily how amazing they are.  Notice and and comment on the specific things that they say and do that impresses you. My students knew that I loved them and that I thought they were awesome by the third day of school.

2. Find out everything you can about your students early on. I asked parents to write me a letter about their child, I did student interest inventories, and I had letters from the students before school began. Be sure to connect with each student every day with a short personal comment. "How's Jasmine?" "Any new legos?" "How is your headache today?" "Love the nails!"

3. Celebrate with a "special" activity within the first week. For example, our day routinely begins with AM work and an AM checklist. I told them frequently how impressed I was with how quickly they learned the morning routine and showed independence. I noticed how they helped each other and how they worked together to get things done. I told them that I usually waited a few weeks before I did a special technology project, but because of their incredible independent behavior, I felt that it was time for the project now. Show them the connection between their behavior and use of time and your behavior and choices of activities. Help them see that managing their time well and making smart choices reaps fun benefits. Continue to have celebrations, no matter how small. We had an extra five minutes of recess last week because we got everything done that I had planned for math that day with five minutes to spare!

4. Have students discuss what kind of place they want to come to every day. Read Bad Case of Stripes and talk about the message in the story. Then discuss these kinds of questions: "What kind of place do you want this room to be? How do you want to feel here? Do you want to feel like you can be yourself? How can we help everyone feel comfortable being who they are?"

5. Have students write a class constitution. Show the video, Creating a Class Constitution, on Discovery Streaming. Then have the students do the same activity. It is wonderful and I will do it every year. I know there are people who are going to disagree with me but when you write the constitution, be careful about changing all of your "don't" statements to "do" statements. I had more than one person comment about my students' rules "Don't Bully" and "Don't Tip in Your Chairs", saying "You are supposed to write all your rules in positive language". But if I had changed it to positive statements like "Be Nice" and "Keep all four legs of the chair on the ground", I would be changing their words and probably their meaning to some extent. Let them own it. They said don't bully because they mean don't bully!

6. Discuss Logical Consequences. After everyone signs the class constitution, talk about the consequences of breaking the rules. Tell them that you respect their rules and your job is to enforce them. Ask "Do you think that just because we all just agreed, no one will ever break these rules?" I tell them about the 3 consequences, Take a Break, You Break It, You Fix It, and Lose Privileges. I also talk about mistakes vs. habit. We all break rules from time to time. However, doing the same thing over and over again is becoming a habit and I will work with the individual to come up with solutions that will help.

7. Tell students that you don't reward good behavior. I simply said that I don't reward good behavior, I expect it. I don't give out prizes or stickers for good behavior. However, I tell them, we will still do fun things like pajamas and a movie or beach day. Those kinds of days will be celebrations of all of their hard work.

7. Help students manage their time through Fun Friday. I got this idea from The Cornerstone by Angela Watson. Every Friday I plan a "fun" activity that I was planning to do anyway. This first week we decorated our reading journals. The second week my students used the laptops to play Cool Math games. This week we will be creating a video to put onto our blog. Here is the catch. All AM work and other independent work must be done before participating in Fun Friday. I give my students plenty of time to get their AM work and other work done. I make sure I tell them how long they will have to do it and I announce when there is so much time left. Refrain from nagging students to get their work done. After 2 weeks of Fun Friday, you will see most of your students managing their time better and staying on task.

8. Use brain based teaching strategies. Make sure kids have choices and voices, build movement, hands-on, novelty and play into the day, provide challenges and opportunities to inquire and solve problems, let them talk and collaborate, balance between consistent grounding rituals and routines and open-ended activities, and build on their interests and background knowledge.

9. Learn about the connections between human needs and motivation. When unexpected behaviors crop up, follow-through with your consequences but also ask yourself what is motivating the student to behave this way? Is there a need that is not being met? What can you do or change that will help him/her get his/her needs met? (Choice Theory, Circle of Courage, Motivation Breakthrough)

10. Involve students in shared decision making and planning as soon as you can. Listen carefully to your students. Jump off of their ideas and use them as community building activities. A simple way to do this is with class jobs. I don't start the year with jobs. I tell students that we will begin in after a week or so and I need them to be thinking about what jobs our class needs. I use their ideas along with some of my tried and true jobs when I introduce jobs. If you know what your goals are for your students it is easier to use their ideas without feeling like it is a waste of time. For example, this year my goal is for my students to have ownership of our class blog. That means they will design it and decide how it is used. So when one of my students drew me a picture of our class as the 4th Grade Superheroes, I took advantage of his idea. I introduced the concept of blogs by showing my students examples of blogs and then we looked at our empty blog with its generic heading. I told them that they needed to personalize it so it was their blog. After sharing Thomas' drawing, the class agreed to call it 4P Superheroes. After lots of brainstorming, I helped them combine their ideas and we ended with a plan for a blog header and introduction video starring them, the 4P Superheroes.

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