In a recent article we discussed the importance of motivation for successful remote learning, offering teachers a few suggestions on keeping students inspired and engaged. We found that while different students were motivated by different causes, several common threads emerged across varying sources of research. For example, multiple experts point to teacher enthusiasm, personalized feedback, and positive teacher-student relationships as some common factors that are likely to help motivate young learners. In this article, we’ll explore one more motivational tool for online students: a reward system.
Like enthusiasm, positivity, and effective online feedback, rewards and incentives can be highly effective motivators, encouraging students to work hard, think innovatively, and persevere against challenges. However, in order to use rewards and incentives effectively, educators must adapt their strategies to the virtual classroom, where much K-12 education now takes place. The tips presented below, which offer suggestions for creating virtual classroom rewards, may provide a useful starting point.
Why Should Educators Create a Reward System for Online Students?
When used appropriately, rewards and incentives can be powerful motivators for students, potentially leading to better academic performance. But what causes this trend? There are two key reasons why virtual rewards for students have so much potential to be effective:
- Rewards and incentives encourage students to push themselves. When tasks are too easy, students can become bored and disengaged. In contrast, rewards and incentives invite students to tackle a challenge, such as reading a certain number of pages or completing ten homework assignments in a row. This also has an added benefit: if the student completes the challenge successfully, not only will he or she earn a reward, but even more importantly, gain an invaluable boost of self-confidence.
- Rewards and incentives make learning fun. The phrase “make learning fun” has become cliche, but there’s good reason to take it seriously. Some research suggests that students are more likely to feel engaged when a class or activity is enjoyable. A student who feels excited and enthusiastic is likely to devote more attention to a discussion, project, or assignment than a student who is unengaged.
By creating an online reward system for students, an educator can add a sense of excitement to the coursework, while simultaneously offering a challenge.
20 Virtual Incentives for Students in Online Classes
There are dozens of ways that students can earn rewards and incentives, depending on grade level, course material, and other factors. For example, a student might earn a reward by achieving a certain score on a quiz, completing a set number of consecutive assignments, providing another student with constructive feedback, or making a meaningful contribution to a class thread or discussion.
As an educator, you are in control of deciding which achievements unlock which rewards. However, the greater the challenge or accomplishment, the greater the corresponding reward should be. By offering larger prizes for more challenging or complex tasks, you can motivate students to continually strive for improvement and growth.
The next question is, what types of incentives can you offer while social distancing and other safety restrictions are in effect? Hopefully, the list of suggestions below will help you start brainstorming ideas.
- Choose a school-appropriate theme for a class costume day
- Choose a virtual background for the day
- Choose a virtual field trip, such as one of these suggestions
- Choose the next class game
- Drop the worst score on a quiz or homework assignment
- Get bonus points on an assignment of the student’s choice (such as adding three points)
- Get bonus points on an assignment of your choice
- Get one “re-do” of a homework assignment
- Get one opportunity to complete an extra credit assignment
- Have first choice of topic on the next essay or project
- Only answer the odd or even questions on an assignment
- Read a short story or story excerpt to the class
- Receive a school-appropriate ebook of the student’s choice (or choose from a list of ebooks, such as classic fiction or young adult fiction)
- Receive digital stickers or reward tags (“brag tags”)
- Receive extra tickets in a digital raffle
- Receive extra time to hand in an essay or homework assignment (such as three extra days)
- Retake one quiz or test
- Skip one homework assignment
- Skip one quiz
- Spin a digital prize wheel, which could include any combination of the incentives listed above — or new incentives of your own
The incentives you choose to offer will determine how you should structure and implement your reward system. For example, you might want to use a system where students can earn one, three, five, or ten bonus points on a test depending on the quantity and quality of their homework or class participation. Another idea is to make frequent use of prize wheels and raffles, so that the reward is a random surprise each time. A third method is to let students earn a certain number of “stars” or “points” (such as ten stars for handing in a homework assignment on time), which can later be traded in for a prize. When it comes to building a reward system for students online, the only limit is your creativity.
No matter how you design or implement your reward system, it’s important to pay attention to how your students respond. If your incentives don’t initially seem to generate much interest, try offering different prizes, or changing which tasks are required to earn prizes. It’s also critical to ensure that your students are aware of your incentive system, so be sure to announce it clearly and early. It’s also a good idea to make information about class incentives available in a place where students can easily access and refer to them at any time. For instance, you can post a rewards chart or prize chart to your class Facebook page.
The types of incentives used may vary depending on the age group of the students in your virtual classroom. A class full of 11th graders may not respond as positively to digital stickers as a class of 2nd graders. Be sure to keep this in mind as you experiment with creating a rewards system for virtual school.
Become a K-12 Teacher with an Education Degree or Certificate from National University
Whether you dream of becoming a K-12 teacher, or you’re ready to advance a step further in your education career, you can achieve more with a degree or certificate from National University. Through the Sanford College of Education, undergraduates, grad students, and transfer students can apply to over 50 online and on-campus programs, which are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). One of our most in-demand teacher education programs is the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE), in which students master essential skills like designing inclusive curricula, fostering positive student-teacher relationships, and communicating clearly with families.
If you’re searching for a rigorous, fast-paced, and fully-accredited program that will prepare you for the challenges facing educators in 2021, consider applying to National University. We offer a variety of scholarships and financial aid resources, accept transfer credits from over 110 community colleges, and give students the flexibility to attend class online or in person. To learn more about whether one of NU’s graduate or undergraduate teaching programs is right for you, contact our admissions office today, or request additional information about a specific program.