Cool rewards, such a getting to make a human Rocket ship on the playground (above), work best if students expect to succeed.
There is sometimes a chicken-and-egg problem with rewards for success. If students are not being successful, just offering new rewards won’t necessarily motivate them. Especially if they have come to the point where they don’t expect to succeed. Then a two-pronged approach to motivation is needed.
A very smart instructional coach and principal I know, recently decided that Rocket Math was not progressing the way it should in their school. Students weren’t passing frequently enough, weren’t excited, and weren’t getting motivated. These two instructional leaders realized that their teachers needed help to effectively motivate their students AND they knew the students needed to experience more success to get motivated. So rather than just offer rewards, they set up special practice sessions so students could get “two-a-day” practices for a week.
The principal and instructional coach made a special challenge week (all 1st-5th grades in this school do Rocket Math). During this week each class had a second ten-minute time during the day for Rocket Math. Immediately after their first practice session of the day, the instructional coach and principal checked the folders of any students who thought they passed, so that if they did, they would re-fill their folders with the next set, allowing them to move on immediately during the second session. Students who didn’t pass knew they had a second chance that same day. At Rocket Math we know that two practice sessions in one day is very powerful and leads to faster learning! The instructional coach and principal also held some extra enthusiastic “Rocket to the Office” practice sessions for selected students who needed the extra boost.
Prizes were announced at the start of the challenge week. The student in each class who passed the most levels during the week would get a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card. The teacher whose class passed the most levels in the week won lunch on the principal. And the class that won (by passing the most levels) got a special secret prize, which you can see above. The picture was posted in the school newsletter, on the school website, and the school’s closed Facebook page.
The brilliant thing about the challenge week was that the excitement of the prizes were reinforced by the extra practice sessions, boosting success at the same time as providing extra motivation. That is effective instructional leadership, par excellence.