Somewhere between the elementary and middle school grades teachers seem to stop rewarding their students’ for good behaviors. Whereas it is common in the lower grade levels to see a bulletin board decorated with students’ name, color coded successes, and various rewards they will earn as a class or individually…these quietly fall away as students pass into upper grade levels. This shouldn’t cease just because the students are a bit older. If anything the need is even greater. The students are faced with many more classroom management routines as they switch classes and teachers, which also yields less time and therefore less connections between the teacher and student. Not to mention the peer influences have an even greater pull in middle school.
As a middle school, exceptional ed teacher I use a positive reward system in my classroom. Additionally, I have a behavior management system that provides planned consequences for undesired behaviors. However, oftentimes that system is not implemented since the positive reward system seems to do the trick and curb unwanted behaviors. The biggest issue for classroom teachers; is the question, what do middle schoolers want as a reward? It turns out not much. Here are some ideas to be used class wide, in special agreement with a particular student, or for a specific event or an especially hectic day/activity.
- Mystery student: Offer a class wide reward of something simple such as candy, free homework pass, or a 15 minute social at the end of a week based on the behavior of only one student in the class. However, the identity remains a mystery to the class. I like to pick a student from my raffle jug (more to come on that in #8). I keep the identity a secret and then at the end of the class or time period, I announce the student’s name and give the class wide reward. If the student did not earn the reward for the class, I keep their identity secret, put the card back in the raffle jug and no reward is given to anyone. This works to acknowledge one student in particular, provides cooperation and collaboration between students, and adds some positive peer pressure regarding behaviors.
- Mystery trash: I like to play this at the end of the day/week. Since we are on a block schedule I can do this Thursday and Friday with the last block of the day. On other occasions, as I see the classroom needs it or after a busy “project day” I will play this game in an earlier class block. First I secretly identify a piece of trash somewhere in the room, “the mystery trash.” Then I give the student 5 minutes to pick up trash without speaking. If they speak, they sit down. Then after the 5 minutes (or after the classroom looks fantastic) I announce which student picked up the piece of mystery trash. That student gets a reward. Remember to keep your eye on the piece of trash without giving it away, and know the students will want to know in detail what the mystery trash was.
- Collect silly stickers: Yep, middle schoolers will work really hard to collect stickers. In my room, students have a reward card. At any given time during class, I give stickers to students that they collect on their MARCH Madness card. (Our school wide PBIS behavior matrix is based on 3 behavior expectations and the acronym MARCH). This may be for behavior, work ethic, or kindness shown. After the student has 10 stickers, they turn in their reward card with the item they would like selected circled. Items listed include; music during independent work, free homework pass, extra points on quiz or test, or to sit in the swirly chair. These cards are useful later, so it doesn’t just stop there.
- Sit in the fuzzy, swirly chair: You really need a special something to sit on or unique place in your classroom that students can earn as a reward. I have an extremely old and basically unwanted teacher chair in my classroom that is practically vintage. Somehow, regardless of the mix of students they all always want that chair. So it is part of my reward system. Students will work ridiculously hard to get those 10 stickers as this is an item on their card. I also do random rewards, and pick a student from my raffle jug to give out this reward. It always amazes me when the “tough guy” kid that is bigger than me is excited to sit in an old, fuzzy, swirly chair from 1967 and will even excitedly volunteer to wipe tables in the cafeteria to earn a sticker!
- Let them be the scribe: I use my raffle jug, to be discussed later…to select students for various duties in the classroom. One job they enjoy is scribe. That student can help with writing on the board, under the document camera, and erasing it as needed. This reward works great for the student with inattentive and hyperactive tendencies since it keeps them moving and focused.
- Be the messenger: Again using my raffle jug, I select a student to be the class messenger. They will hand back ungraded work, pass out papers or supplies, and take any needed items to another room. This too is a great task to assign a student that struggles in a long 90 minute block. (Occasionally, I may select a raffle card from the jug specifically with one student in mind and act out this process sneakily).
- Homework Free Challenge: Besides earning a homework pass in other reward systems, I will offer a challenge to the students as a class. If there is an especially demanding day, a substitute teacher, or perhaps an assembly…I will let the students know ahead of time that the entire class will earn a homework free day/week if less than 3-5 warnings are given to the class. That means, no more than the designated number of warnings for any student for the entire class. If possible, I will let the class know when the number of warnings is creeping up….but I do not do so by singling out a student.
- Raffle jug: This came about randomly. I was saving the behavior reward cards figuring it was interesting data and that the cumulative of many reward cards might be useful someday. Now I plop them all in a raffle jug, per class block. I use the raffle jug in planned and spontaneous ways. Sometimes I just need a student for a one-time task whereas other times it is used to give a planned reward as stated above. Either way, the raffle jug works great. I collect the students reward cards after they have earned 10 stickers, give the reward they circled, sign the card and throw it in the jug. Then I use the cards as needed to select a student and offer a reward. Students really want to have as many cards in the raffle jug as possible, so earning the stickers has an added incentive. It doesn’t take the students long to realize the more cards the better their chances in the raffle. I use the raffle jug every Friday, and as needed to help boost desired behaviors, and/or pick a student fairly.
Don’t make them grow up too fast, enjoy the festivities, and be silly. They need it just as much as we do!