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Rewards and reward systems – PP38

The topic of the week is Rewards and reward systems – PP38.


3893586483c3de2fd6e7mOur topic of the week is rewards and reward systems.

Stimulated by a question from a listener, Chris, Paul starts by outlining his suggested 5 key principles of a good reward system:


  1. Reward over and above – don’t reward minimum standards because that is what you will get, rather reward those who go over and above the required standards
  2. It’s not what you give but the way that you give it – the system itself isn’t necessarily critical, it’s how staff operate it
  3. Make the reward system simple to operate – it must be simple enough to fit in with the rhythm of the teaching of the busiest staff e.g. if you have to log into a computer between lessons to use the reward system then you are storing up work for yourself because it doesn’t fit in with the pace you need to be working at – this leads to teachers using their own, simpler systems rather than the consistent school one
  4. Make the reward system personal – personal praise which is sincere and rewards students for going over and above is one of the top three things learners say they want – the danger of using a technological system for rewards is that it can take away the personal touch
  5. Recognition beats material rewards every time – the tiny moments of appreciation and feeling valued are far more important to the majority of learners than raffle tickets to win an iPad at the end of term which distances the reward far too far from the behaviour to be effective

Pupils need to know what the rewards are for – strange as it may sound. Too many reward systems reward by default . For example, some systems are set up so that every lesson you get a point unless you are badly-behaved and have the point removed. If points are available to everyone who is ‘good’ for the whole week and they earn a prize, this takes the responsibility away from the teacher. The child never has that moment of interaction and appreciation with the teacher.

Where there is a ‘token economy’ in the reward system, it can very easily become corrupted – not necessarily deliberately – by teachers who are too mean or too generous, children who try to play the system for more rewards or the natural instinct to over-reward children who decide to behave for half an hour. Rather, Paul thinks rewards systems are better to be based around personal praise and positive notes etc. where you can be more consistent and focus on one or two children rather than the indiscriminate distribution of reward. This way, the child will understand what the reward is for and that it is for going over and above.

Where a system is based on reporting via a computerised system, you will find that there are far more reports of negative behaviour despite the fact that there is far more positive behaviour going on than negative. It’s human nature to report the things which concern us most and brush over the positive activity. Paul points out that he spends a lot of time trying to convince establishment to create behaviour policies which address the 95% of behaviour rather than focussing on the 5% of poor behaviour.

The best institutions have a relentless focus on the 95% of positive behaviour

Differentiation of rewards

Different kinds of rewards are appropriate for different ages of children. For example, secondary age pupils may not appreciate the high frequency rewards or even recognition they received in primary school. Conversely, there are learners with additional needs who rely on high frequency, small rewards to help to modify their behaviour.

Lots of rewards everyone can give doesn’t necessarily mean the same impact for all learners. Some learners need encouragement once a week, some every twenty minutes and if you use rewards like positive notes, it’s easy to differentiate because you are not giving them out like beans – they can be carefully targeted.

Paul likes the electronic systems when they are well managed and particularly when they involve an element of earning tokens to support a charity. However, it’s all still down to the adult behaviour when the reward is being given – what they are delivering is second to that.

Some schools have fantastic results with the simplest possible systems. Paul mentions the Isle of Sheppey Academy who simplified their system to:

  • Praise
  • Positive notes
  • Positive phone calls home

The realised that if they did these three things really well, they could make great progress.

Levels of recognition and rewards in a school

Paul goes on to point out that there can be three levels of rewards running concurrently:

  1. Classroom level – notes, verbal praise, being first in the queue for dinner or out at break time (primary), post-it praise, choosing where to sit , positive referrals (secondary) – these are short term rewards
  2. Faculty or department level – student of the month, letters homes, certificates, faculty awards – medium term rewards
  3. Senior leadership level – access and earned privileges, prefects and responsibility, headteachers’ commendation, award ceremonies – these are mainly long term rewards

Overall the rewards system will depend on the behaviour of the adults.

Announcements and events:

New free iPad App! Students love using the Pivotal Progress Sliders app on iPads to track their progress during lessons. You can also save progress and return to it in the next lesson.

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