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Incentives & Consequences Used to Motivate Students

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield

For many students in K-12 education, the normal routine of classwork and homework can get boring, and they may misbehave. Other students with behavior or emotional problems need motivation and incentives to continue learning or to guide them in the right direction. The amount of discipline and motivation varies by age and type of problem, but it is an integral part of classroom management.

Incentives and Consequences in Lower Elementary

Lower elementary students (kindergarten through second grade) need redirection, and time to reflect or process their behavior. At this age, students respond well to behavior charts; consequences and incentives can be recorded on the same chart, with a prize or activity that the student enjoys at the end of the chart. Another idea is to have a "reflection corner" where students can sit and write about their feelings, what caused the behavior and what they can do differently.

Upper Elementary

Upper elementary students may need behavior incentives that go beyond one day, perhaps stretching through an entire week or month. Smithville Upper Elementary in Missouri has a chart with points on it that correspond to positive behavior. The more positive behavior points a student earns, the bigger the reward. For students who have a harder time staying focused and on track in class, a teacher may choose to use a daily or weekly behavior contract. For a behavior contract, the negative behaviors that a student exhibits are listed at the top. Teachers (or sometimes the students) chart the behaviors, and may reward the student based on the number of times the behavior was displayed.

Middle School

In middle school, the techniques and types of discipline may change. One way discipline changes in middle school is that consequences for bad behavior can be quite severe -- many middle schools have long-term suspension and expulsion programs, as well as alternative schools. Also, middle school students have many more things in their environment that may cause them to act out, according to Adverse Child Experiences: parent abuse and alcoholism, bullying and maturing body issues. Sometimes, talking to the teen or referring him to a counselor may help the behavior. Teachers may also choose to reward whole classes for good behavior, turning homework in on time or good test grades.

High School

High school students still need structure, but they also need some flexibility in behavior management. For this reason, some high schools advocate for behavior contracts, although charting of the behaviors is usually done by the student. Counseling is still necessary for some issues, because many students bring their environment to school with them. Usually by high school, incentive programs aren't as useful, but that doesn't mean that whole class incentives and single student incentives wouldn't work. According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, teachers just have to be a little more creative: Friday game day, prime parking spots, getting to choose where they sit and free paperback books are all good incentives to reward positive behavior in high school.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

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