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5th November 2004 at 00:00
Rewards systems are essential for pupils' motivation, says Annette Kennerley

When I began teaching last year, much of my time was taken up with behaviour management. It was depressing to finish work on Friday by chasing up referrals and sending letters home to parents. So I vowed to end the week on a positive note and send out at least six "well done" postcards. I still do this. It made me realise that focusing on positive rewards might pay off for me and my pupils.

We tried hard to make school policies consistent, establishing sanctions and enforcing them. It's hard for NQTs, but by now you know your classes better and you can start to devise rewards that best suit your classes and your teaching style.

I like to have my own reward scheme as well as the school system. They help classes work better as groups. I also get pupils to devise their own ideas and to nominate classmates for unique awards, but not necessarily for academic achievement. "Best listener" and "most helpful" are popular, while in English awards such as "best use of adjectives" and "most creative use of language" work well. Year 7s love dreaming up new titles.

I display names and rewards on a wall chart. You can aim for every pupil in the class to get an award at some point, so everyone has an investment in the scheme. And you can adapt rewards to subjects. I'm an English teacher with a passion for new words, so I regularly invite key stage 3 pupils to meet a "special word" challenge. I give them a new word (the first one was "serendipity") and ask them to write down the meaning in the back of their exercise books, where they build up a bank of new words. It's an optional homework task - and if they can make a sentence that shows the meaning of the new word and present it in class, they get an award. It encourages new vocabulary, research, dictionary use and presentation skills. It also develops a love of language and prompts them to have fun with words.

It's important to make sure that behaviour management doesn't take over from teaching, and I've found reward schemes far more constructive than ticking against names on the board for bad behaviour.

As a short-term measure to promote a more positive atmosphere in the classroom, start with lots of prizes - then gradually reduce them as your pupils start to respond.

Annette Kennerley is in her second year teaching English and media at Stoke Newington Arts and Media secondary in Hackney, London

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