We all work harder when we know we will be rewarded for our effort; that is just human nature, and students are no different. As teachers we want to build a lifelong love of learning and encourage students to do their best on every assignment. This is often accomplished by rewarding students for their hard work. There are many benefits and means of recognizing students for their best effort at school.

What are the Benefits of Recognizing Hard Work?

When a teacher recognizes the effort of students, in turn the students become cognizant of appropriate behaviors that can benefit them throughout their lives. This enhanced work ethic can boost students’ self-esteem and learning. Teachers must keep in mind that while they can use rewards to celebrate achievements and effort, they must be careful not to bribe students. The key is not to offer a prize for completing a simple or expected task. Rather, make sure the student has truly applied effort or exceeded the goal before providing a reasonable incentive for each. It is also important to note that students both in-class and virtual benefit from celebrating student success.

Ways to Celebrate Student Success

Using Intrinsic Motivation to Reward Effort

Intrinsic motivation comes from a feeling within the child. We want students to want to learn and grow, without earning constant tangible prizes. Intrinsic motivation is what helps students feel good about themselves and excited to attend school. Providing students time to read for enjoyment or complete a fun activity after a more difficult task is one way to reward students intrinsically. Allowing students to share with others can be a reward many will work to reach as well. This is just as easy for virtual learners, as they can earn a chance to share a favorite toy or piece of artwork with classmates once they have completed an activity to the best of their ability.

Another intrinsic motivator that can be used in-class or online is a challenging or fun learning task. When students are fully engaged in hands-on learning or experimentation, they are more likely to want to complete the task to the best of their ability. This sense of pride in one’s work is a life-lesson the student can then take into the workforce later. One of the easiest ways to increase intrinsic motivation is to offer specific and legitimate praise. When a child hears sincere praise for their hard work and effort, it can truly move some students to work harder.

Using Extrinsic Motivation to Reward Effort

Probably one of the easiest but not always the most effective means of rewarding student effort is in tangible rewards. In order to be most effective, these rewards must be given out sparingly and with intentionality. The use of prizes, be it candy, a small toy, or a sticker, can motivate some children to put forth more effort. When a student masters a series of skills, an extrinsic reward such as lunch with a friend or free computer time could be given. This helps a child set a more long-term goal before receiving a reward for the applied effort.

Using Classroom Responsibilities to Reward Effort

There are many children who will work hard for the chance to be a classroom helper. Allowing students to choose a job such as being a line leader, a supply manager, homework helper, or paper collector after completing a difficult task can be a great reward for effort. Since these tasks are harder for virtual students, other classroom responsibilities that can be accomplished online include group leader, news reporter, or guest reader.

Using a Share Wall to Reward Effort

Most students of all ages enjoy sharing their work with others when it has been completed with their best effort. A share wall is a way to share the work of others. It can be a piece of art, a fantastic essay, or a group project. When non-graded but quality work is shared for others to see, students will work hard to join the share wall.

Just because a virtual classroom does not have a physical wall does not mean teachers cannot share excellent assignments. A virtual teacher can create a presentation and add pieces each week so that students have a chance to be rewarded for their effort and share their work with classmates.

Using a Game-System to Reward Effort

Many students today are drawn to gaming systems where they can create characters and move through challenges. There are several educational programs that reward students by allowing them such opportunities once a set of skill-based tasks has been completed. Some gaming programs include: Prodigy, Cool Math Games, Moby Max, Raz-Kids, Social Studies Weekly, and Reading Eggs. These, and other similar curriculum-based learning sites, engage students in fun learning by earning rewarding games and virtual prizes.

Using Celebration Days to Reward Effort

In an effort to teach students to set long-range goals, a teacher may provide some form of celebration for students exceeding their goals. One example is any student who has read over 3 books in a month might get to attend a free reading hour outside on a beach towel or with their favorite stuffed animal. A class might work together on a group task to earn additional recess or the chance to earn a class party.

Older students who complete a unit of study with a certain grade average may receive a study-free celebration day. Other long-range celebrations could include a movie and popcorn, an afternoon of free-play, or a chance to wear a favorite costume to class.

Considerations for Rewarding Student Hard Work

There are many factors that make the reward worthwhile and meaningful to students.

First, the teacher must consider the age of the student. While younger students may love the chance to earn a sticker or get in a treasure box, older students will feel belittled if offered such rewards.

Another factor is the timing of the reward. Some younger students need an instant reward for completion of a task. As students grow and mature, they can be taught to work for longer periods of time before being rewarded. It is important that a teacher knows the students’ needs and abilities to wait. Likewise, the reward must fit the task and length of time spent to attain it.

Few students will work hard for two or three weeks if the task is a mere piece of candy. On the other hand, a student may work all year on a reading goal if the end result is a special field trip. Finally, it is vital to understand that while teachers can promote hard work through tangible rewards, they also need to foster internal motivation that will encourage a student to want to do their best.

*Updated March 2021