Whilst there are those who argue that the love of learning should be enough, the simple fact is that for many of our students additional incentives are needed. Sure there are some who just love to work, but the reality is our students are almost always specialists, with areas of interest – and other areas that they simply can’t understand why anyone would want to put them through the torture of learning!
I look at it this way; I enjoy being told I’m doing a good job – if someone tells me I’m doing a good job I work harder because I feel appreciated. If someone told me I was doing a rubbish job, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. I’d feel miserable and deflated, and I probably wouldn’t feel like trying my best for them again.
Your students are exactly the same. They want to be praised; and for students with Autism, who often struggle to interpret your non-verbal communication, a quick smile on the way out of the door is not going to cut the mustard.
So what works? In an ideal world, tangible is good. In an even more ideal world if you can tailor that reward to a student’s special interest you’re probably onto a winner. Tangible doesn’t need to mean expensive though. In my room, I have a student who works for Friday afternoon lift rides, one who loves nothing better than a laminated no-smoking sign, another who lives for his hour on the Wii, and another who’s spent all year working for doll shaped tokens towards a doll (a doll which may I add would have ended up in the charity shop had I not commandeered her). It’s all about tailoring the right reward to the right student.
Of course, free time works well too. We work on a basis of 50 minutes fantastic work equals 10 minutes choose time, and during that choose time we build relationships, we play tig, we have a challenge on the Wii, we talk about students’ favourite topics. And if we haven’t worked fantastically? Then it doesn’t need to become a drama, the student concerned simply catches up in what would have been their free time.
And yes, I realise that my methods work in part because I have a structure to make them work, I also realise that in mainstream some of them would be difficult to implement. But the real key is we need to find a way of letting our students know when we think they’ve done a great job, something that is especially important if they’ve tried hard but not got 100%. In the eyes of our students a wrong question makes them feel like they’ve failed, it’s up to us as teachers to show them that sometimes it’s ok to make mistakes by giving them our praise and showing them that effort matters.
So why not get yourself some stickers, or make a point of individually congratulating those students who have worked hard that lesson, or even make a couple of phone calls home to celebrate achievements. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you make it obvious that you’re pleased and think they’ve done well.
We can all do this. Just imagine the difference it would make to you, if someone told you after each lesson how amazing you had been. We have the power to give that gift to our students. Let’s make it our mission to make them feel valued. How many times can you praise a student between now and the end of term?