Reward your pupils for goodness' sake

Punishment is too often a teacher's first instinct with wayward pupils - but such an approach can prove counter-productive, writes Paul Blum.

Research shows that most teachers reward and praise pupils a lot less than they think they do. Most of them know far less about the "art of rewarding" than the darker "art of punishment" because they spend much less time thinking about giving rewards.

The first rule of rewarding is that you should be doing it at least five times more frequently thanpunishing. Sadly, though, hard-pressed teachers often get this ratio the wrong way round.

So why is there so muchpunishment? Mainly because teacher folklore tells you that pupils should never be rewarded forsimply doing what's expected of them. This encourages bad habits and low standards, surely? Folklore also says that if your lesson is interesting, it will win their attention.

But this is simply not true.

Consider your experience with the class from hell during last period on a Thursday afternoon when you're faced with unruly mayhem as you try to start the lesson. Try writing the names of the pupils who are ready to listen to you rather than threaten detention to the others. Or praise the parts of the classroom where pupils are attentive to you, rather than bawl at the numerous individuals who are not.

People will start to notice you. It may be gradual, but if you wait patiently, the trickle will soon become a flood.

Try to use the school system of reward if such a system exists. But be warned: most schools expect you to give out positive points just once a lesson. Much like supermarkets, rewards are rationed so you may need to create your own form of reward that is low level and high frequency. If you have a tough class, you may need to reward pupils up to four times a lesson. If an average lesson is 50 minutes, this is once every 12 and a half minutes.

Such an approach does not amount to being soft - it ispro-active and pragmatic. Some pupils need recognition of their contribution or they will quickly go off the boil. Their engagement in the curriculum is often so attenuated that it needs regular low-level reward.

In the art of rewarding, it is essential that you validate the majority of the class who are on your side - and not just the naughty pupil who is suddenly converted to being good. This means finding a way of rewarding that majority in every lesson. But this creates logistical problems: how can you give out rewards to the majority up to four times in a 50-minute lesson if you have 25 or more pupils in class? Not even Robbie Williams could keep up with such an autograph schedule.

A practical way around this is the reward stamp. These come in many versions - for primary and secondary school use. A set of 25 can be stamped on to a folder or an exercise book in about 90 seconds of walking around the class. Students and teachers in secondary school may see this as babyish at first, but even the most cynical students will eventually soften and become accustomed to the routine. In the end, the cynics will be as eager as anyone to get their reward.

Paul Bloom teaches in a London secondary school and is author of 'Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms' (RoutledgeFalmer)

BE POSITIVE: YOU CAN'T PRAISE YOUNGSTERS TOO OFTEN

* You cannot use it too often.

* Self-inked merit stamps are a quick and easy low-level reward that you can administer quickly.

* Ideally, you would build your low-level reward system into a wider school system that recognises and rewards good work, consistency, motivation etc with prizes and certificates.

* If your school lacks such a system, go ahead and create it for yourself anyway. It is certain that your pupils will respond positively to it within the classroom context.

* Keeping a good reward system ticking over will probably add up to 15 minutes' teaching time to your working day - an extra hour and a quarter a week to get things done.

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