How are rewards used in HELPS?
At the end of each session, students are given rewards in the form of stars on the star sheet (found in teacher's manual). The star sheet is a grid of squares (one star per square), containing occasional random shaded square. When the student earns a star on a shaded square, he or she gets to pick a ticket out of the ticket bag which has a number written on it for amount of extra stars awarded. Additionally if a student gets to the end of a row, he or she gets to pick a prize out of a prize box. Students have to potential to earn up to two stars a day (not counting stars on the tickets). They can achieve one star if the student showed good effort, and they earn another star if the reading goal was achieved.
How do you make rewards effective motivators?
There is a debate about the use of rewards in education and whether it decreases interest in the tasks at hand (Kohn), but in HELPS it has been found that the use of rewards in the right way is effective. First, when you award a star to your student, be sure to tell him or her exactly what was done to achieve it. For example, you can say...
- "Jeremy, today you get this star for correcting all the words we practiced."
- "Nicole, this star is for meeting your reading goal, but you get another star for reading with great expression during the whole session."
Alfie Kohn, author and speaker on education, is a strong opponent of praise and rewards. He argues that verbal reward does not benefit the student whatsoever, it actually harms them by taking away their intrinsic motivation to do the task. While several studies have shown that students do lose interest in the task once reward and praise are involved, Kohn fails to recognize the use of well-constructed reward and praise systems in promoting effort (like HELPS). In Kohn's article "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!" (2001), he says, "Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise" (p.3). Unfortunately, he does not discuss cases in which rewards are paired with statements that specifically point out why the student is receiving that reward. HELPS makes sure to emphasize that volunteers need to make it clear to their students the importance of improved reading skills and how that should be the main motivator. For more information on Alfie Kohn's ideas, watch this clip of his appearance on Oprah.
How do rewards motivate?
Generally, the students who benefit the most from HELPS are those who are struggling in reading. Many times, due to prior experience, they are discouraged and may not enjoy reading, which can seriously slow down progress. Using rewards gives these students a way to visually see their progress, and when rewards are paired with praise of exactly what they are doing well this can maximize effort and encourage them to practice outside the session. HELPS is more than just fifteen minute sessions; this time should be used to motivate students to want to improve their reading fluency. In order to do this most effectively, rewards provide additional incentives to succeed. Making sure they realize the rewards are only a perk to reaching their goals and putting in effort is vital. It is most important that they value the activity so that they can continue practicing at home.