How to not spend a fortune on prizes this year.

I am currently in a hotel lobbby with a very didgy WIFI signal, so appologies if this is a bit brief or sloppy this week!

This is not going to be a discussion on whether or not to use prizes as a form of praise. I think you totally should.  Not always, there are plenty of occasions where your good favor should be reward enough, but for those moments when a child has gone above and beyond, I think a special treat is warranted.  Exactly what those moments are is up to you.

I have never subscribed to 'Star Pupils' or 'Treasure Box Children'.  I think they are tokenistic and often devolve into a glorified checklist inevitable resulting in the agony of 'how the heck do I make sure this child receives something?  Almost every school uses some sort of Friday certificate scheme, leave the awkward decisions for that.  

I should also mention that I am something of a convert when it comes to prizes and physical recognition of preferred behavior.  I used to be a curmudgeonly type who would openly declare that children should do the right thing because it was the right thing.  What can I say?  We were all young and stupid once.  I have my wife to thank for my heart growing three sizes.  I came home and told her about a particularly naughty child who had been told off, first by me, then by the Headteacher.  The child had done something terrible but at the time I felt like I had dealt with it.  The Head became involved because he happened to be visiting the room while I was reprimanding the child and decided to reinforce my decision as a teacher, and the various school rules broken by the child.  

My wife was not impressed.  She asked if the child needed to be publically told off twice.  I admitted that he probably didn't, but he was unlikely to do the bad thing again.  He definitely knew he had done something wrong.

My wife remained silent for a while.

"Does it work the other way round?"  she asked.  "That child was told off until he knew he was in trouble.  Do you praise the children until they know they've been praised?"

And that struck a chord.  I was all for praising children when they tried or did the right thing or made me laugh but it was usually a verbal 'well done' or something similar. Did I praise the children until they knew, publically, that they had done the right thing? Could it be that some token of good behavior was valid?

I mentioned this to a teacher friend of mine from a different school who said that it was a waste of time.  It seems he didn't buy into all that 'hippie shit'.  And that 'kids don't even want it.'  That's what clinched it for me. 

Nobody does anything without incentive.  We go to work, yes we love our jobs, but would we do it for free?  No.  And we have the luxury of choosing to go to work.  Okay, if we don't go to work, we don't get paid (unless we call in sick) but that is still an incentive.  The only people at school who don't have a choice, who have to be there by legal decree, are the children.  We expect good behavior from them.  We should expect good behavior from themBut that doesn't mean we can't provide the positive feedback of incentives for good behavior.  

Here are some of the things I have used that have been successful in the past.  None of them cost anything.

1. Treat them like a dog

This sounds awful, I know.  But they love it.  Pat them on the head, rub their back, treat them like te little terriers they are.  All the time saying what a good girl/boy they are.  Go fully doggo on them.  Who's a good boy/girl?  You are!  Yes, you are!  You're probably cringing while you read but I've done this and it works.  The child ends up smiling; the rest of the class have a friendly giggle and everyone knows what exemplary behavior looks like in my classroom.

2. Tell them they can smile, but set a limit.

This is excellent work, Janey, you may smile for ten seconds today.  That's all it takes.  The great thing about this one is that it is so ridiculous that the child immediately begins to smile and you get to tell them not to waste their smile time.  Tell them they only have seven seconds left now and that their parents will want to see a smile at the end of the day, so stop wasting it.  One of two things will happen then.  The child will either try to stop smiling (something that is very cute to see) or they will flat out laugh.  At which point, you walk away tutting over their flagrant disrespect.

3. Give them a round of applause.

The way I do this is to walk over to the child, tell them to stand up (all very deadpan), then tell them to stand on their chair.  Then explain to the class that this person has [insert preferred behavior here] and needs a round of applause.  The class applauds.  The child smiles.  You help them down.  I usually end this one with a stern sounding 'now get on with your work.'

4. Make sure you have a system.

I've spoken before about my behavior chart and that it not only chronicles negative behavior but also positive.  Once this system is in place, it is simply a case of telling them to circle a letter.  (The letters spell 'PRIZE'.  What I love about this is that even if a child has done something bad in a previous lesson, they can still achieve a reward through the day.  Because the behavior charts are separate, they're 'bad choice' doesn't go away.  They still have to acknowledge that it happened but they can also see that one bad choice doesn't have to define them.
If I want to go totally mad, I'll tell them to circle two letters.  If I think they deserve crazy peer-recognition, I'll tell them to circle a letter for everyone on their table.  It's completely free so the cost to effectiveness ratio is astounding!  I'll provide a link to an editable behavior chart when I get back from my holiday.

5. Have a prize bag.

I know, I know, I said this list wouldn't cost you anything.  And it doesn't have to.  I had prize bags bursting at the seams for the whole school and it didn't cost me a penny.  Here's how.  Whenever I went anywhere (CPD, conference, BETT - BETT is a goldmine for prizes) I would pick up free pens, stickers, fluffy bug things, prizes from Christmas crackers absolutely anything.  I would put it in my prize bag, or my 'Bag o' Crap' as the staff knew it, and if a child had done something exemplary, and I mean completely off the scale, they would get five seconds to have a rummage and pull out one thing from the bag.  This was also the prize at the end of the 'P,R,I,Z,E' behavior scale.  This tat was revered by the children not for what it was but for what it represented.  I gave everything in that bag value.  If a child pulled out something truly crappy, I would say that it was in there by mistake and that they had to swap it with something else.  It was mine, you see, and I really wanted it back.  80% of the time, the child held on to it more tightly and refused.  
Incidentally, my wife cottoned on to this bag of mystery and decided that it could be used as a house-clearning device.  Once a term, I had to go through the house and gather all of my 'toys' or any novelty mugs that we didn't need/use and put them into the bag.  When non-teacher friends find out, they start donating their crap as well.  Your bag will fill very quickly!  The look on a child's face when they pull out a Storm Trooper cereal bowl (Star Wars, not Nazi) is something to behold.

So that's my top 5 ways to praise children until they know they are praised.  If you've read this far, please leave a comment below.  Do you disagree with anything I've said?  Have I missed something obvious?  Is there a topic you would like me to write about?  Let me know!  As always, I can be found on Twitter or on my website, where you will also find my 'Supply Closet', a selection of resourse-free acitivities for English and Maths that are designed to last at least an hour.  Perfect if you've been left with a class but no plans!

Carl Headley-Morris