Consistently reinforce efforts [I-4]

What does it mean to reinforce academic effort well?

What are some effective strategies for reinforcing effort?


  • Praise
  • Student of the week
  • Classroom charts that highlight student gains
  • see all


  • Field trips
  • Classroom jobs
  • Parties


  • Raffle tickets
  • School supplies
  • Healthy snacks

Illustrations are grouped by the proficiency that they best bring to life.

We would like to communicate our deep appreciation to these teachers who are allowing us to learn from their experiences.


Sometimes we may praise or reward students without clearly explaining why we are doing so because either (a) we assume students already understand the meaning behind the reinforcement, or (b) because we aren’t really sure what to say to communicate our message.


Students may not really understand the reasons for rewards, praise, and privileges unless we consistently reinforce the exact reasons behind these reinforcements. Remember to always communicate the purpose of your rewards by emphasizing their connection to hard work, growth, and improvement. Highlight students’ specific actions that warrant the reinforcement (e.g. “you really went the extra mile by attending after school tutoring when you were struggling, and now your grade has improved!”) and avoid using vague messages that don’t make your reasons clear (e.g. “you’re an excellent student”).

Also remember that clearly communicating the reasons of your extrinsic reinforcements helps lead students to become more intrinsically motivated to work hard toward success over time.


We often plan to use the same set of rewards for all students in all situations because we want to be fair, thinking that this requires us to treat everyone the same way. When we do this, however, we neglect to realize that different students often need different strategies to be motivated to work hard.


To help invest your class, consider what motivates individual students and how much extra incentive different students may need. Think about using class surveys and asking student influencers and other teachers about what they have found effective in reinforcing and motivating individual students. Read more about ways to tailor your rewards to individual student needs. Also consider tailoring your use of reinforcements in proportion to student needs. For instance, you may create special privileges for students who need extra incentive to work hard, or give fewer rewards to those students who show more intrinsic motivation.


Sometimes we feel that we may not have much cause to celebrate effort in our classroom when students may be struggling to reach our high academic bar for their success. This can be easy to do because we hold high expectations for our students (and ourselves) and may not want to seem content until all students have attained excellence.

When we do this, however, we may fail to recognize the incremental progress students are making, even if they are still behind our ultimate goals. This can cause students to lose motivation and harm their belief that they can succeed through hard work (I-1).


Remember that students can make remarkable progress throughout the year and still be behind grade level. Plus, meeting high expectations can take time, and students need encouragement along the way to reinforce their effort. The most effective reinforcements recognize individual improvement and growth just as much as overall achievement on an absolute scale. Establish different reinforcement systems that can celebrate both achievement of a high bar and student progress toward your high expectations. For example, you can use student of the week rewards to recognize both high achievers and students who have been putting forth significant effort to improve. Read more about reinforcing effort, growth, and progress.

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