Every teacher knows that positive reinforcement works better than negativity, especially when used to establish strong scholarly routines and behaviors. Setting up an effective reward system within the classroom is a key lever in encouraging good behavior, grades, and general attentiveness from all students. However, despite how many teachers acknowledge the importance of reward systems, it can be difficult to know which systems work best and why.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Some teachers nowadays resort to building their reward systems around material prizes, such as candy or a Friday movie. Other teachers may threaten students with punishment if they do not meet expectations. Instant gratification and reliance on motivation from external sources form the basis of many classroom reward systems. But solely using extrinsic motivators with students can actually be detrimental, not only to classroom culture but also to the characters of the students themselves.
These methods of motivating students do not teach students the value of intrinsic motivation, the kind that comes from within. Research has shown that "rewarding students for getting their schoolwork done with prizes, snacks and even grades, as most schools do, can have the unintended effect of dismantling a child's drive to learn for its own sake."
Intrinsic motivation encourages students to learn how to think, not what to think, and emphasizes the value of doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Instead of focusing on grades, students are driven to actually understand concepts in-depth. While this is an environment that every teacher wants for their students, creating a reward system that develops individuals' intrinsic motivation can be difficult.
Reward Systems that Reinforce Intrinsic Motivation
Luckily, there are several solutions when designing a classroom reward system based on intrinsic motivation. A big component is the element of choice. When students are given more choices in the layout and activities of their classroom, they are more likely to be driven by interest and internal factors. Many teachers are now turning to the concept of the "active classroom" and basing their reward systems on elements that inspire students to think big.
Studies have proven that children simply learn more when they participate actively in the process of learning, and classrooms that emphasize activity allow students the autonomy to engage more with the content they are learning. Active classrooms lend themselves well to intrinsic reward systems, such as allowing students to work together or at a place of their choosing in the classroom, rather than making them work silently and solo for hours at a time. This special type of classroom setup also encourage students to seek out leadership roles within the class, improve peer relationships, and reinforce positive behaviors with rewards that further motivate students to do well.
How to Design this Classroom
There are many tools teachers can use to design their own active classrooms, and most don't require much time or money. Simply by rearranging desks or setting up a "reading corner," teachers can allow students to have more options within the class as well as the ability to get up and move around. One recent trend that many teachers are embracing in their new and improved classrooms is the concept of standing desks.
Standing desks offer students an excellent opportunity to continue learning but in a more fun and much healthier way. Because most teachers and schools cannot afford standing desks for every student, assigning a small number to each classroom is a far more realistic option.
Yet instead of seeing this as a potential cause for conflict, teachers are recognizing that they can develop an intrinsically motivated reward system that uses the standing desks as a reward. Those students who work well with others, show patience and compassion, and meet expectations at all times can be allowed to continue learning -- and showing off their leadership skills -- from a standing desk!
In this way, having an active classroom benefits everyone: the student and his or her health, the learning environment, the culture of motivation, and (let's not forget!) the teacher.