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5 Student Incentive Ideas for Academic Achievement

By The Room 241 Team September 25, 2012

One of the biggest challenges educators face is student motivation. This issue affects all levels of education: Kindergarten teachers are pressed to invent incentives to get their students excited about school, while colleges work to raise graduation rates through financial aid bonuses and by limiting unnecessary credits.

Below are five ideas that can be applied in almost any setting.

Consider intrinsic motivation

It’s easy to fixate on the rewards of finishing school work: good grades, teacher and parental pride, and eventually a bright future. However, because of a difference in home life or personality, many students are not driven by extrinsic motivation. An adaptable educator may redirect to intrinsic motivation. Students naturally work hard in their areas of interests, so it helps to tie subjects to a fun topic, or relate problem areas to subjects a student excels in.

Think small

Teachers and parents are often tempted to over reward. For young children, something as simple as a sticker or change in seating may be enough motivation. Some elementary schools have had success with tickets handed out randomly for exceptional behavior. Though they can be traded in for prizes at the end of the year, in many cases the tickets themselves become coveted possessions.

Offer options

One way to encourage productivity is to allow students to choose how to complete their assignments. Without changing the length requirements or topic, give multiple options: create a website, give an oral presentation, or write a paper. Students still learn the information, plus they grow in independence, self-confidence and creativity.

Start with loss

Recent findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that loss is a better incentive than gain. Children may not miss what they never had. One tool that utilizes this information is a board in which students lose tokens for each incident of bad behavior or failure to complete an assignment. ¬†For older students, removing privileges may be more compelling. Of course, to avoid constantly being in the role of punisher, it’s important to initially include privileges that may later be eliminated, such as free seating or listening to an iPod during work times. By having faith in students early, teachers encourage them to rise to expectations.

Act quickly

The study also emphasizes the damage done by even a brief delay in reward distribution. In fact, according to the scholars, “all motivating power of the incentives vanishes when rewards are handed out with a delay.” Students doing well must be both praised and rewarded immediately. Because this has the potential to consume an enormous chunk of classroom time, educators should focus on certain areas or levels of achievement to reward.

One of the best ways to encourage academic achievement is to create an environment in which achievement is valued. Though individual rewards are valuable, a goal that the whole class must reach together promotes internal support and positive peer pressure. Possible group rewards for stretches of good behavior or high class averages (depending on the grade level) include:

  • an open book final
  • a field trip
  • class outside
  • a movie or party day

By choosing activities with relevance or educational value (like a cultural party or trip to a museum), teachers can promote the idea that learning is ultimately its own reward.

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