One of the biggest challenges we sometimes face as teachers is to keep students motivated and engaged. No matter how compelling the lessons are, sometimes these energetic young minds march to their own rhythm. This week, we sat down with two exceptional educators that have cracked the code when it comes to engaging students. With their help, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips to motivate students.
Meko Artis is a Technology Assistant at Meadow Lane Elementary in North Carolina. She sees several hundred students throughout the year and manages their Classworks activities in the computer lab. Much like Meko, Vicki Norton runs the lab over at Doby’s Mill Elementary in South Carolina where she also serves as the school’s Interventionist.
Both teachers have become popular among students and fellow educators at their schools due to their unique approaches and sensational results.
Finding creative ways to reward hard work will encourage students to develop an appetite for success. Often, the key to motivating students is to find the right tools for incentivization.
The best part is, it doesn’t have to be anything over-the-top. Simple, meaningful rewards can help demonstrate to students that their hard work has value. Incorporate elements that the students are familiar with. School mascots, made-up currency, and themes from their favorite activities are all great jumping-off points.
When it comes to inspiring students to do their best, Meko Artis has hit a home run! With her creative approach to incentivization, Meko has created reward systems that benefit both students and teachers throughout the school.
About a year ago, Meko noticed that some of her students were struggling to keep up with their Classworks reading assignments. She wanted to address this issue in a way that would prepare them for the Renaissance STAR assessment as well as encourage students to grow confident in their reading skills.
Meko started by asking her students about their collective interests. With hot chocolate being the fan favorite, the Classworks Read a Latte Café was born. Students who achieve their reading goals in Classworks are invited to hang out in the computer lab with good company and good cocoa. She says that this reward has motivated students to improve their performance remarkably. By putting more gusto into their work, students have been able to more accurately close learning gaps by improving Renaissance STAR scores.
The results are a win-win for both teachers and students as their behavior outside of Ms. Artis’ class is also taken into account when being invited to the cafe.
Vicki Norton shared a similar view.
“Children are honest,” she laughs, “they’ll tell you exactly what makes them smile, and you’d be surprised how much the little things mean to them.”
Vickie Norton’s school runs on a reward system called Dolphin Dollars, named after their school mascot. Students are rewarded Dolphin Dollars based on their Classworks achievements and their behavior. Different achievements are worth different amounts depending on how rigorous the accomplishment was.
On “market days,” the students are allowed to exchange their Dolphin Dollars for a selection of highly-coveted prizes - like getting to take your shoes off in class! Most of the prizes are simple gestures that mean the world to students, like getting to sit with a friend at lunch or being the teacher’s assistant.
Her students, especially the younger ones, relish in the spotlight she has created for them. Getting to be the “class leader” for the day? For 2nd-graders, that’s basically winning the lottery.
Vickie says that making students feel special about their achievements is another great way to incentivize success. Accomplishments are worthy of praise, and a little praise can go a long way. In the Doby’s Mill computer lab, when students get certificates and trophies in Classworks, they are applauded by the class as they sign their names onto a special card; the students love it!
On Fridays, Vicki has a prime-time spot on the school’s morning show where she draws student’s names from a fish-bowl for a bigger prize. It’s broadcast throughout the entire building and is a fantastic way to spread the word about the reward system.
Doby’s Mill Elementary also inspires a little bit of healthy competition among the students as the highest achieving students are entered for prize drawings and high-achieving classes are rewarded with pizza parties.
By displaying students’ accomplishments on bulletin boards in and around the classroom, students are aware of each other’s successes and are motivated to achieve.
Other teachers have noticed a change for the better outside of the lab as well. Incentivizing the students’ good behavior has had a butterfly effect throughout the school. Students are more courteous and better behaved when they know there’s a pizza party on the line.
There are lots of ideas to choose from when it comes to motivating students. Whether you’re rewarding good behavior, classroom successes, or individual achievements, your students will be proud of their accomplishments, and that will motivate them to keep doing their best. Incentive programs don’t have to be overly complex. By offering simple, positive reinforcement you can turn the work they have to do, into work they love to do.