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Student Awards, Rewards and Recognition

When we consider the implications of student award and reward programs and student recognition, a number of concerns about the practice may be raised. Some educators feel that the reward for studying should be learning. Further, some believe that using extrinsic rewards (for example, certificates, gold stars, grades, honor roll status) may have negative consequences that are de-motivating and counter-productive for promoting student achievement. However, there are a number of research studies that support the value of extrinsic rewards and recognition.

"Reward contingency" is the nature of the relationship between the desired behavior and the reward. Alyce Dickinson, an educational researcher, identified three types of reward contingencies that are helpful in our consideration of student rewards.

* Task-contingent rewards are given for simple participation.
* Performance-contingent rewards are given for excellent performance.
* Success-contingent rewards are given for reaching an acceptable level of proficiency.

Dickinson further concludes that the danger of undermining student motivation stems not from extrinsic rewards, but from the use of inappropriate reward contingencies.

"When students have a high rate of success and when those successes are rewarded, the rewards do not have negative effects," she points out.

Student awards and rewards can be very powerful in building school spirit. In a school that has good school spirit, recognition and affirmation flows in all directions. It may begin going from principal to teachers and support staff. Soon it will evolve in the other direction, from teachers and support staff to the principal. At the next level, many teachers report that they find themselves giving more students recognition when they are recognized for their teaching ability. This, in turn, evokes affirmation and recognition for the teacher or support staff member from the students.

Recognition can take on a life of its own. A whole new stage of improvement in school spirit occurs with peer-to-peer recognition, when teachers are invited, enabled and encouraged to recognize others in their work. In turn, this models and promotes student-to-student affirmation and positive self-talk.

To build momentum in student recognition, consider student awards for some of the following reasons:

* To reinforce a desired behavior
* To indicate a desired behavior
* To acknowledge a special accomplishment
* For good attendance
* To enhance rate of mastery or learning of subject matter
* To reinforce and build teamwork
* To acknowledge improved behavior
* To build student confidence
* To model praising others
* For recognition of academic achievement

Let's look at some specific strategies for recognizing students and consider the implications of each.

Teachers can send positive messages to parents about their children on postcards with inspirational messages or attractive scenes on one side. When these involve positive messages, there is usually little doubt that they will arrive home (save the stamp). They are immediately available and will achieve a maximum effect when they have the following:

* A stamped school seal or logo
* Address of the parent(s) of the student
* A positive message targeted at performance
* A statement of what that performance means for the student
* A statement of how much the performance is valued by the teacher
* A signature and date written by the teacher

Recognition Receipts
Here is an opportunity to send a message home and to retain a copy of the sent message for review and tracking purposes. The teacher writes a note to the student and signs it. When the message is torn off and sent home, a carbonless copy remains as a record of the recognition for teacher review and recording.

Honor Roll
Most schools have an honor roll for students whose academic achievement is at a certain performance level accompanied by good behavior. It is important to acknowledge this to indicate that the school places a priority on academic performance and responsible student behavior. This recognition is best offered at an award presentation ceremony in front of the student body, commemorated by a certificate. Schedule these presentations at the end of each quarter or trimester to serve as a goal and example for other students.

The certificates can be presented in an "Academy Awards" type setting, where student presenters wear formal attire (ties and dresses) and come up two by two to the microphone to announce the recipients in a particular category and to ask them to come forward and receive their award. A slide presentation put to music capturing the recipients in various classes and activities throughout the school is a nice culminating activity.

The Wall of Fame
One way to recognize students on a regular basis that works well in elementary school is to have a "Wall of Fame" located near the entrance of the school by the office. Some schools update this board with Student of the Week honorees. Others do it on a monthly basis. This type of display creates a positive atmosphere in the office area and is a welcome visual advertisement for the academic focus of the school. Students, parents, staff and visitors will be drawn to this area to bask in the glow of student accomplishment.

"Making the Difference" Certificates
Many students make a difference just by their presence and involvement in school. Some students are gifted leaders with the ability to bring out the best in others. Other students help out in the special education department or daycare program. There is the boy in the wheelchair who is the manager of the basketball team; the student who includes and motivates others to contribute their time and talent to the school; the computer student who helps teachers solve e-mail problems; the art student who spends hours creating sets for the school musical. These students make a difference in the lives of others, and their contributions should be acknowledged and recognized.

A certificate personalized with mention of the unique contribution of the student will become a treasured memento for years to come. The certificate can be made more impressive with the school logo on a gold foil seal and either a folder in the school color or a frame. A perpetual recognition plaque should also be displayed with the names of previous recipients and the spaces for future recipients. In this manner, the legacy of each individual continues on in the school and their contributions inspire others.

School Tour Guides
Students often love to tell others about their school. One of the most empowering strategies that I have seen for recognizing students is to be chosen as a school tour guide. Tour guides can be designated in a number of ways. One is with a special photo identification badge worn on a lanyard that indicates in large letters that the student is an official school tour guide. They are briefed on the history and traditions of the school and are given a script full of information about the school's history, accomplishments and special programs.

When this responsibility is accorded to even the most struggling students, they usually respond with great enthusiasm, telling the visitor the positive points of the school. Tour guides are released from class on a rotational basis when dignitaries and other special visitors come to the school.

Birthday Ribbons
When we recognize students on their birthdays, it tells them we think they are special. In this instance, we are fair and equal to all students. We are not selecting only those who can construct an exemplary project or score the highest on a given paper; we are saying that this is a day to acknowledge you. Keep a variety of colored ribbons for this special event. Younger students will want to pin them on and wear them throughout the day. Older students may take the ribbon as a bookmark.

Achievers of the Month
This form of recognition has been very successful at the elementary level. On your "Wall of Fame," showcase colorful copies of the "Achievers of the Month" certificates that have been presented to students who have demonstrated academic or behavioral achievements during the month. The actual presentation of the certificates is best done in front of the entire student body in an assembly. A follow-up reception of juice and cookies, etc., can be held in the principal's office. Parents, relatives and family friends can be invited to attend this reception.

Random Acts of Kindness Flyers
Every school hopes to create an atmosphere of kindness and caring that permeates every aspect of the school. Students will have a better idea of the specific behavior that is desired if, from time to time, the outstanding efforts of individuals are celebrated and recognized. One way to do this is to produce a flyer for each staff member and volunteer detailing the types of behaviors watch for. These flyers are produced in the form of a simple nomination form that can be submitted to the principal. Then, either quarterly or at the end of each trimester at a school assembly, students who have shown kindness or consideration to others can be publicly recognized.

Student Suggestion Box
The student council may want to obtain input from students throughout the school in an easily accessible manner. The suggestions can be collected by student officers on a weekly basis and given to a student advisor for review prior to forwarding through the student council for consideration.

This article is courtesy of Baudville, www.baudville.com .

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