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Engaging Students over the Holidays with Classroom Incentives

Monday, November 23, 2015 -- Stephanie Abbott

For most educators, the first marking period of the school year is in the books. This means that you and your students have covered about 50% of the annual content. In sports terms, we will be heading into the second half. In calendar terms, it is the holiday season.

In classrooms ranging from the kindergarten through high school level, the mood changes in October. Halloween kicks off the holiday season, with a day of costumes, decorations, and trick-or-treating. Next, Thanksgiving means days off from school and work, delicious (and huge) meals, and for many, a little travel. Then, December comes with its variety of holidays and all of their distractions. This adds up to eight weeks of consistent disruptions to the everyday routine. It’s understandable that students are distracted, finding it difficult to concentrate with the visions of celebrations dancing in their heads.

So what’s an educator to do? Develop a reward system, of course! The concern then becomes: how to craft an effective one. And. what truly motivates students to stay focused?

Let’s consider the thinking behind instituting a holiday reward program. I think we can agree that every child gets distracted. Yes, some students are more distracted than others, and there are certainly children who cope with distractions well. However, regardless of a child’s level of distractibility, staying on track through the holiday months is vital to long-term academic success.

When designing your rewards plan, hands down, the most important element is your students’ perception that the reward is attainable. If the plan is perceived as excessively complicated, too long, or out of reach, then it will be doomed from the start. Let’s walk through three things to consider to ensure that you come up with an effective holiday season reward program:

1. Design for Personalization

It’s important that students know where they are academically and have a clear picture of where they want to be. For example, in Edmentum’s online elementary literacy program, Reading Eggs, an individualized learning path is created for all students after they take a short placement test. As students work through lessons, they can easily see their progress and keep their end goal in mind.

When creating a learning plan like this, it’s important to make sure that the path to success is achievable for all students, no matter what their academic standing is. Each child should have the sense that topping his or her personal best is within reach. To achieve this, try offering rewards based on measuring a student’s individual growth or advancement through levels rather than setting a benchmark level that all students must meet to earn a prize. The reward criteria then will become a meaningful metric to both struggling and advanced learners. 

2. Focus on Measurement and Validation

Maybe students will earn points for every lesson completed. Or, perhaps a monthly measurement is taken that leads to celebration for students who improve their skills by a certain percentage. Whatever the structure of your incentive program is, be sure that it can be explained and monitored easily. Before deciding on your reward goal(s), understand how you will validate that it has been reached. In Reading Eggs, an increase in Lexile® score is one example of metrics easily obtained through reports that show student progress.

3. Defined Disbursement

It’s always best to acknowledge success sooner rather than later. First, keep in mind your young students’ perception of time; a month can seem like an eternity to a first grader. Weekly awards might be more effective.Second, let your students know exactly how long the reward program will run and when prizes will be awarded. Finally, consider having a cumulative reward for the student who showed the most consistent improvement. You will acknowledge the value of persistence and perseverance by incentivizing your students to build upon previous improvement.

With a bit of planning, you can make the excitement of the holiday season work for you instead of against you in your classroom. Take advantage of this time of special occasions, and bring that mindset into your classroom with a reward plan—the sense of academic accomplishment your students can experience will overcome the holiday distractions and ultimately be another cause for celebration!

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum’s online solutions for early literacy can motivate and engage your learners with goal-focused individualized learning paths? Explore Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress!